Judges asked: Don’t revoke bail of communist rebel consultants
MANILA — Holding out hope for the resumption of peace talks with the government, legal consultants of the communist rebel negotiator, National Democratic Front of the Philippines, have issued a broad appeal for judges not to cancel the bail of its negotiators.
Legal consultant Rachel Pastores expressed hope that the government would reconsider its decision to cancel the talks, noting that both parties had been on track to finalize the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms within this year to address the socioeconomic roots of conflict.
Pastores said defense lawyers have asked the respective courts not to grant the Office of the Solicitor-General’s motions for the “recommitment” of the individuals out on bail.
In sum, she said lawyers cited calls for the continuation of the negotiations, as well as the gains made during the three rounds of talks since August.
“We are appealing to the judges to consider such calls and not hastily consider the OSG’s prayer because a lot will be lost,” Pastores told reporters in a Wednesday briefing.
“How will the peace negotiations push through if the consultants are returned to jail?” she exclaimed. “Who would do the talking?”
NDFP legal consultant Edre Olalia, meanwhile, urged the OSG to “exercise prudence” in seeking the rearrest of peace process consultants. “Give it a chance for things to turn around,” he said.
One such motion filed by Pastores, on behalf of Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court read: “It is premature to say that the die has been cast in so far as going back to the negotiating table is concerned.”
It also lamented that their rearrest would “bring to naught and render moot and academic the efforts of high government officials, various peace advocates, and the Royal Norwegian Government as third-party facilitator.”
The continuing effectivity of the bail of consultants, who were released for the purposes of the negotiations, is seen as a legal safeguard after President Rodrigo Duterte called for their arrest on Feb. 6, a day after declaring the peace talks “canceled.”
So far, Pastores said judges have not decided to grant the government’s plea, giving the consultants’ defense counsels the chance to air their comments before the court.
An exception is Maria Concepcion Araneta, whose bail Pastores said was canceled by an Iloilo court last week after she skipped her arraignment out of fear for her security.
The daughter of Reynante Gamara, another consultant released on bail, said that allowing the negotiators to be free to take part in the peace talks has been a “matter of justice” because they were only detained for “trumped-up” charges.
Niki Gamara said the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ immediate warning for the consultants to either surrender or hide only showed that some sectors in government were treating the consultants “like hostages for the peace negotiation.”
“There’s a gun pointed at their backs. This is not a genuine way to treat negotiators,” she said.
Olalia, meanwhile, said the NDFP was forced to withdraw its unilateral ceasefire earlier. He said constant incursions by the military have put the communist rebels on active defense mode in an attempt to avoid skirmishes.
He and Pastores blamed “spoilers” for the cancellation of the peace talks, citing factions advocating militarized action instead of pursuing peace, as well as vested interests opposed to socioeconomic reforms being tackled at the negotiating table.
Pastores noted that during the third round of peace talks in January, negotiators have already agreed in principle about the nature of the agrarian problem and the need for the free distribution of land to the landless peasantry.
“The discussion was just heating up, and [negotiators] were finding ways to expedite things. It is unfortunate that this was terminated,” she said.
Even as Duterte had withdrawn many of his campaign pledges, Olalia said: “If he changed his mind for the worse, then he can still change his mind for the better.” SFM
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