With Tiamzon’s arrest, it’s time for NPA to surrender—AFP
MANILA, Philippines — It took the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) more than 20 years to catch the slippery Benito Tiamzon, chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines- New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).
And finally, with the fall of Tiamzon and his wife, Wilma Austria, in government hands on Saturday night, the AFP believes that it dealt a huge leadership vacuum in the decades old communist insurgency.
The Tiamzons were arrested exactly a week before the NPA’s 45th anniversary on March 29. Austria is the CPP-NPA secretary general.
“We hope that they realize that, their primary leader, their advocate for armed struggle Benito Tiamzon has been arrested already and I hope the rest of the leadership of the CPP-NPA will now come to grips with reality. They should see the writing on the wall, the desire of the Filipino people, the collective will of the Filipino people… that we have been longing for peace,” AFP chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista said at a press conference in Camp Aguinaldo on Sunday.
Bautista described Tiamzon, who turned 63 on March 20, as the one who “directs the armed struggle all over the country, who directs all the land mining, the killings, the violence perpetrated by the New People’s Army.”
Bautista said the military’s internal peace and security plan “Bayanihan” would continue to be implemented nationwide after the Tiamzons’ arrest.
The military chief urged the rest of the communist rebels to give up their armed struggle, calling it a “Jurassic methodology, it’s barbaric, it has no place in this modern world.”
Asked if the military would be on red alert after the arrest of the Tiamzons for possible retaliatory attacks, Bautista said the AFP has always been ready against the communist rebels.
“We are always on red alert. We are always prepared to address any security issues,” Bautista said.
A military assessment report furnished to the Philippine Daily Inquirer described Tiamzon “as the true center of gravity behind the CPP-NPA” and not CPP founding chair Jose Ma. Sison.
“There exists a widely reported disagreement between Jose Ma. Sison and Benito Tiamzon particularly on issues pertaining to peace talks and with regards to strategy and tactics of the NPA. Tiamzon reportedly does not seriously consider the directives coming from Sison and usually acts on his own with the CPP and NPA at his ready disposal. This solidifies his status as the true center of gravity behind the CPP-NPA and not Sison. With the capture of Benito Tiamzon and his wife, the NPA will suffer a leadership vacuum that will eventually spell doom for their organization,” the military report said.
The chief of the Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP), who said that it would take the CPP-NPA some six months to find a replacement for Tiamzon, confirmed this.
“With the arrest of the Tiamzon couple, it would take a plenum before they can be replaced. The CPP practices collective leadership. They would have to summon all members from all over the country and hold an election on who would be the next chairman,” Major General Eduardo Ano, ISAFP chief, told reporters after Bautista’s press conference.
Ano said without Tiamzon, the CPP-NPA would have “lack of direction” on the ground.
“Unlike before when he would send only one email to give instructions to all regions. Now, no one can do that. They are disorganized. They have to wait until the plenum. Now, even Joma and the others would have to meet. It would take a while,” Ano said.
Bautista began his press by greeting the media a “Happy Sunday.” It likely stands for how he felt with the fall of the head of the CPP-NPA.
But Bautista did not want to take credit for the huge military score, saying it was a continuing effort of the AFP, the Philippine National Police (PNP), and other government agencies.
“There is no singular person that is directly responsible for that. It’s not necessarily [important] that it happened during my watch. It’s a continuing activity and it’s a collective effort of all members of the Armed Forces past and present,” Bautista said.
Indeed, among them was Ano who was an Army captain when he first took part in tracking down the Tiamzons.
Today, he is a two-star general who was among the military and police commanders who oversaw operations against the couple.
Ano told the Inquirer that the Tiamzons and their five other companions did not resist arrest because “as leaders, they have to remain alive.”
“They knew all these years that they are being tracked down. And last Saturday, to them was the ‘This is it’ moment. They were resigned to the fact that they were being arrested. They didn’t resist. They didn’t even object,” Ano said.
Bautista declined to give the details of the arrest, saying “it might compromise our operational techniques, our assets.”
Ano would only go so far as saying that the moment the operatives knew that the people they were tracking in a vehicle were the Tiamzons, “a quick checkpoint was set up.”
The hunt for the Tiamzons through the years covered practically numerous parts of the country.
“They transferred from one safe house to another. When they would sense they are being tracked in an area, they would leave. They were last in Eastern Visayas before they went to Cebu,” he said.
The last time government security forces nearly caught the Tiamzons was nearly three years ago in the Mt. Province, Ano said.
Ano said Austria, 61, had escaped from police custody in 1989 and from a church group in 1994.
Arrested with the Tiamzons were Rex Villaflor, Nona Castillo, Joel Enano, Jeosi, Nepa, and Arlene Panea. They were described as “staff personnel” of the Tiamzon couple.
Seized from the group were four pistols, two hand grenades and several ammunition, as well as four laptop computers, 16 cellular phones, and 20 flash drives.
The Tiamzons were charged for the multiple murder of 15 civilians in Inopacan, Leyte buried in a mass grave that was discovered in 2006.
Benito Tiamzon was then the secretary of the Eastern Visayas Regional Committee when the purging allegedly took place, a military report said.
According to the military, both Benito and Wilma were graduates of the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
The couple has a daughter.
The military said the Maoist rebellion waged by the CPP has claimed some 30,000 lives.
The military claims that the NPA strength is down to some 4,000 guerillas from more than 26,000 in the late 1980s.
Hours after the arrest of the Tiamzons, Luis Jalandoni, chairperson of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) negotiating panel for the stalled peace talks with the government, demanded for their release.
“The NDFP vigorously demands that Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria be immediately and unconditionally released,” said Jalandoni, who also condemned the arrest.
“Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria are NDFP consultants who have fulfilled and are fulfilling highly significant tasks in the peace negotiations between the government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP/GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP),” Jalandoni said in a statement released through lawyer Edre Olalia.
According to Jalandoni, Wilma Austria is a holder of the NDFP Document of Identification ND 978226 under her real name while Benito Tiamzon holds the NDFP Document of Identification ND 978227 under the assumed named “Crising Banaag.”
Both hold a letter of acknowledgement from then GRP negotiating panel chairman Silvestre Bello III.
“This latest flagrant violation of the JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees) by the Aquino regime, in addition to so many other gross violations of the JASIG, most seriously prejudices the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations,” Jalandoni said.
But the GPH peace panel countered that there was no violation of the JASIG in the arrest of the Tiamzons.
“The CPP/NPA is well aware of the effects of the failed verification. But they only have themselves to blame for rendering the JASIG inoperative for most of their alleged consultants,” the peace panel said in a statement.
The peace panel said the NDF and the GPH agreed to verify the true identities of several dozen supposed NDF consultants in the list of JASIG- protected individual carrying aliases through a procedure in July 2011.
“But through no fault of government, the NDF failed to open their own files that purportedly contained the photos and true identities of the said NDF consultants. This failure had the effect of rendering the JASIG inoperative for those using aliases and those who are not directly involved in the peace process. If indeed Benito Tiamzon was listed under an alias, he is no longer covered by the JASIG,” the panel said.
It added that Wilma Austria Tiamzon jumped bail when she escaped from detention on December 26, 1989, “when there were no peace talks, and six years before the JASIG came into effect. This makes her ineligible for JASIG protection, even assuming she was identified in the JASIG list by her real name.”
“To sustain their claim to JASIG protection is ridiculous because that would mean they can wage war and violence against government and when caught, claim JASIG protection and expect to be released. It is even more outrageous considering that the peace negotiations have not moved for over a year now. And while we continue to be open to the resumption of the talks, last December, the CPP called for the overthrow of the Aquino government, saying they will just wait for a new administration before they go back to the table,” the panel said.
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