Top Negros communist leader captured in Laguna
A former Catholic priest-turned-rebel was the sixth peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to be arrested since President Rodrigo Duterte formally ended peace talks with the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Francisco Fernandez, or “Father Frank,” 71, secretary of Komiteng Rehiyonal-Negros, was arrested with his wife, Cleofe Lagtapon, 66, in a police-Army operation in Liliw, Laguna province, at 5 a.m. on Sunday.
Fernandez served as NDFP regional party chair and spokesperson, and Lagtapon, secretary for communications and education, officials said.
Military officials said Fernandez used the aliases “Ago,” “Tatay,” “Tuloy,” “Pidong” and “Andot,” and had a bounty of P8 million for his capture on charges of rebellion, murder and attempted murder in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental province.
They said Lagtapon was known as “Guia,” “Ella,” “Pidang” and “Emay.”
Arrested with the couple was Gee-Ann Perez, 20, who authorities said was a “staff” of the CPP regional committee in Negros, Cebu, Bohol and Siquijor.
She and Lagtapon are facing a murder and robbery case in Cadiz City, Negros Occidental province.
Maj. Gen. Rhoderick Parayno, commander of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, said Fernandez was the subject of four arrest warrants for murder and multiple murder.
Senior Supt. Eleazar Matta, Laguna police director, said three .45-caliber pistols and three hand grenades were seized from them, along with cell phones and documents, in the couple’s rented apartment at Barangay Calumpang.
The three underwent inquest proceedings at the Laguna prosecutor’s office Monday afternoon for violation of the election gun ban.
Fernandez and his wife arrived in Laguna in October but settled in Liliw only in January, Matta said.
He was seeking medical treatment in the province, human rights group Karapatan said, describing him as “sickly.”
Negros’ last ideologue
For more than 30 years, authorities had been hunting down Fernandez, considered the “last of the true ideologues” of the communist rebel movement on Negros Island even by military officials.
He remained mainstream when many of his colleagues joined the revisionist movement in the 1990s that led to the breakaway group, Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade, which later entered into a peace agreement with the government in 2000.
“We caught the No. 1 big fish of the CPP-NPA (New People’s Army) in Negros,” said Brig. Gen. Benedict Arevalo, 303rd Brigade commander in Negros. This shows that CPP-NPA members “cannot run away from justice even for so long. There is always a time for reckoning, and justice will eventually be served,” he said.
According to the Army, Fernandez was involved in the 2017 ambush by the NPA, the armed wing of the CPP, in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental, which resulted in the death of six policemen and a civilian.
Kristina Conti of Public Interest Law Center and Karapatan said lawyers and family members were barred from seeing Fernandez, who had been confined to the Army’s general hospital at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.
Lt. Col. Demy Zagala, Army spokesperson, said Fernandez had told officers “he was not feeling well” and was first brought to Asian Medical Center in Muntinlupa City. He and his wife were later transferred to the Army camp.
Zagala said the military was not giving Karapatan the runaround to deny Fernandez his rights to a counsel. “We treated him well, put him in a room—not a ward, and gave him medical attention,” he said.
Fernandez came from a small town in Cebu and was assigned as priest to Negros. His last posting was at San Vicente Ferrer Parish in Barangay Antipolo, Pontevedra town, Negros Occidental.
Fernandez was an activist during his seminary days. He became a full-fledged rebel in the 1980s.
San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza said he would pray for the safety of Fernandez and his two companions.
“I pray that their fundamental human rights are respected even as they are made to account for whatever they’re accused of,” he added.
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