Red leader’s arrest hit: ‘Evidence planted’
National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant Vicente Ladlad was arrested on illegal firearms charges on Thursday in a midnight raid that his wife and lawyers said reeked of evidence-planting and political persecution.
Ladlad was the third NDFP consultant to be arrested since peace talks with communist rebels were terminated by President Duterte last year.
Police and military operatives said they seized from Ladlad and an elderly couple, Alberto and Virginia Villamor, “high-powered firearms, ammunition, grenades and several subversive documents” during a raid on a house in Novaliches, Quezon City.
Police laid out the alleged haul—an AK47 with bayonet, an M16A1 assault rifle, two .45-caliber and one 9mm pistols, several loaded magazines, four grenades and subversive documents—from the raid on a table at the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) conference room.
But Ladlad’s wife, Fides Lim, denounced the presentation as all a “setup, show and publicity stunt.”
“Everything is fake,” Lim shouted as officers barred her from entering the room and denied access to her husband at Camp Bagong Diwa, the NCRPO headquarters, where Ladlad was booked.
Director General Oscar Albayalde, the Philippine National Police chief, hailed Ladlad’s arrest as the “successful result of our anticriminality operations” against loose firearms.
Lim, however, said her husband was suffering from chronic asthma, which had degenerated into emphysema, and a severe heart condition that made it impossible for him to operate the firearms.
She challenged the authorities to check for fingerprints on all the weapons that were displayed. “They will not find a single speck of his fingerprints in any of that trove,” she said.
One of Ladlad’s lawyers, Kristina Conti of the Public Interest Law Center, said the grenades were planted to justify an additional charge of illegal possession of explosives, a nonbailable offense, against him.
According to Albayalde, allegations that the police are planting evidence, which is unlawful, have been the “basic alibi” of suspects caught red-handed.
“We will never do this. We will never tolerate this if this is being done,” Albayalde said.
The PNP chief said the Quezon City Police District was informed by “concerned citizens ” about suspicious activities of the occupants of the house where Ladlad and the Villamor couple lived, prompting them to gather additional information to back a request for a warrant.
But their neighbors at Doña Tomasa Subdivision, Barangay San Bartolome, were shocked at the police raid, knowing the elderly couple as “quiet and very kind.”
The Villamors have been living in the subdivision for two years now and have never been involved in any quarrel or controversy in the community, their neighbors said.
Alberto is known as “Lolo Al” or called “Tatay Bato” because he looked like former PNP chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.
Every day, he buys “pan de sal” from a “sari-sari” store minded by Zeny Mendoza around 6 a.m. and then buys newspapers before returning home.
“We would have some small talk. He was really a kind soul,” Mendoza said, adding that the old man would give children in the neighborhood P20 each as his Christmas “aguinaldo.”
Tailed by vehicle
Neighbors rarely see Virginia leave the house because she is sickly and is suffering from hypertension and they have never seen Ladlad around the neighborhood.
“It was only when we saw the news this morning about the arrest that we learned about him,” said another neighbor, Roma Soriano.
Ladlad’s wife said that on Oct. 25, about two weeks before her husband’s arrest, she was tailed by suspected police or military operatives on a silver Innova.
“This made me anxious because I had a feeling it could be following me because of my activist husband,” Lim said in an affidavit, adding that her husband left their house in Makati City after peace talks collapsed late last year.
She said human rights groups had reported that a silver Innova was seen during the arrests of several activists and two other NDFP consultants—Rafael Baylosis in January and Adelberto Silva last month.
According to human rights group Karapatan, Ladlad’s arrest violated the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig), which gave NDFP consultants immunity from arrest, detention or harassment.
Just following Duterte
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the police and the military were just following an order by President Duterte to arrest Ladlad and other NDFP consultants after the talks ended.
“Jasig is operative only if there are peace talks ongoing but that has been terminated by the proclamation of the President on Nov. 23, 2017,” Panelo told reporters.
He also dismissed charges that authorities arrested Ladlad and the other consultants without warrants, saying they were all accused of rebellion, which is “a continuing crime” that required no warrants to arrest suspects.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the arrests of the NDFP consultants could preclude the continuation of the peace process.
“We call on the government to stop these schemes, and instead concentrate on resolving the root causes of rebellion. Militarization should not be the solution to the 50-year [communist] rebellion,” he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM CHRISTINE O. AVENDANO, MELVIN GASCON AND JEROME ANING
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