Liliw arrest of NDF consultant further sinks talks

A complaint of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, and violation of the election gun ban were filed against Frank Fernandez, his wife, and a companion. NDFP leaders say Fernandez is ill and was reportedly in Laguna to seek treatment.

Fernandez (left), his wife Cleofe Lagtapon (center), and companion Gee-Ann Perez are shown in these photos presented during a press conference on Monday in Camp Crame.

SANTA ROSA CITY — The peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) is headed for possible total collapse with the arrest on Monday, March 25, of Frank Fernandez, a top leader of the communist movement in the central Philippines and an NDFP consultant.

Fernandez is the sixth member of the NDFP panel to have been arrested by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte since he ordered the termination of the peace process in November 2017. Fernandez’s arrest came a week after another NDFP consultant, Renante Gamara, was arrested  on March 20 in Cavite. That same week, Duterte dismissed all the members of the government’s panel that has been negotiating with the communists since he took office in 2016.

These developments in the past few days are the clearest indications so far of the imminent collapse of the peace negotiations, which have been on and off since they started after the 1986 People Power uprising. The military thinks the arrest of Fernandez will affect the communist movement, which has been waging an armed revolution for more than half a century now, in significant ways.

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“This (arrest) will definitely have an impact on their leadership (and) put an end to the efforts of (Jose Maria Sison) to bring back the peace negotiations at the national level,” said Major General Rhoderick Parayno, commander of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division. Duterte terminated the peace negotiations in 2017, opting instead to hold “local peace talks” with the rebels.

Fernandez was returned to Laguna on Monday afternoon where he was charged at the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in Santa Cruz town. The charges were filed almost 36 hours after Fernandez, 71, a former priest who joined the communist movement in Negros Occidental in the 1980s, was arrested and held in a military hospital in Fort Bonifactio in Metro Manila.

Fernandez’s wife Cleofe Lagtapon, 66, and their companion, Gee-Ann Perez, 20, were also arrested. The police and army said the three were officers of the Communist Party of the Philippines’s regional committee in Negros, Cebu, Bohol, and Siquijor.

Laguna police director Colonel Eleazar Matta said they were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, and violation of the election gun ban.

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NDFP officials denounced the arrests. “The NDFP strongly condemns the unjust arrest of Frank Fernandez and his partner. Frank is a publicly known consultant in the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines)-NDFP peace negotiations as NDF spokesperson for Negros,” said Fidel Agcaoili, NDFP negotiating panel chairman, according to a report by the alternative news site Kodao.

Sison, an advisor to the NDFP panel, said “the safety and immunity guarantees for NDFP consultants are continuing even in case of breakdown or termination of the peace negotiations.” But the officials belied that claim, saying those guarantees were rendered moot by Duterte’s termination of the negotiations in 2017.

Authorities said they found three .45 caliber pistols and three hand grenades from the Fernandez couple’s rented home in Barangay Calumpang in Liliw town. In a press briefing in Camp Crame Monday morning, Philippine National Police Director General Oscar Albayalde said police and the army served the arrest warrant against Fernandez around 5 am Sunday. (Laguna Now)