MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 5 – 1:02 p.m.) The National Democratic Front of the Philippines condemned the arrest Wednesday of its Rafael Baylosis and demanded his “immediate and unconditional release” as well as that of a companion seized with him.
The police advisory on the arrest said Baylosis, 69 and reportedly suffering from heart ailments, and Guillermo Roque, who was described as an alleged New People’s Army member, were nabbed in a joint operation involving the CIDG, Intelligence Service of the Armed Fores of the Philippines and other police units at the corner of Aurora Boulevard and Katipunan Avenue Wednesday afternoon for an apparent firearms possession violation.
But Baylosis’ counsel, human rights lawyer Rachel Pastores, meanwhile, dismissed police claims firearms had been seized from her client and his companion, Guillermo Roque, saying she had visited the NDFP consultant Thursday morning and police could not present the guns they claimed to have found on the two.
Baylosis, member of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Group on Political and Constitutional Reforms, and Roque are detained in Camp Crame in Quezon City.
The police report said the combined units were “conducting casing and surveillance at the said area (regarding the) reported presence of armed and suspicious looking persons” who were supposedly first sighted on January 30, Tuesday.
Authorities claimed two .45 caliber pistols were seized from Baylosis, who they described as “acting secretary” of the NPA, and Roque.
Police said the two would be brought before the Quezon City prosecutor for inquest proceedings.
A statement released by the Public Interest Law Center, of which Pastores is managing counsel, said “the warrantless arrest of Rafael Baylosis, NDFP peace consultant, brazenly flouts law and further derails efforts at peace.”
Pastores told InterAksyon in a phone interview, “Pumunta kami, walang baril (We went there, there were no guns),” adding that Baylosis “never surrendered his bag” to the arresting agents.
“The armed men who took him did not read him his constitutional rights, or even present him with charges, contrary to the PNP press release,” the PILC statement said. “He was not allowed access to family, lawyers, or even to a phone, until the following morning. He and his companion now face fabricated, trumped up charges of illegal possession of firearms.”
Pastores told InterAksyon they are still contesting a Department of Justice motion for the cancellation of the bail earlier granted Baylosis to allow him to participate in the now scrapped peace talks.
Since the peace talks ended Duterte has issued increasingly bellicose statements, not just against the armed revolutionary movement but also what he claims are its “legal fronts.” He has also ordered the rearrest of all NDFP consultants who were earlier granted bail to participate in the talks.
Baylosis is the first to be captured.
He and several other NDFP consultants, including Satur Ocampo, alleged Communist Party of the Philippines leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, and Adelberto Silva are charged with multiple murder over a mass grave of alleged rebel victims discovered in Leyte.
On January 11, a Manila trial court judge granted a motion of the Department of Justice and ordered the rearrest of the Tiamzon couple and Silva.
Pastores also denied the police claims that Roque was a rebel, describing him as an “all-around” handyman working for her client who Baylosis had accompanied for a tooth extraction.
“Kabababa lang nila sa tricycle at naglalakad nang sila ay damputin (They had just alighted from a tricycle and were walking when they were arrested),” she said.
Pastores, who said she met with Baylosis only Thursday morning, also decried the CIDG’s refusal to allow him access to counsel immediately after his arrest despite his demands.
“He was arrested at 1:45 p.m. but we learned of it only around 10 p.m.” from media reports, too late for her to visit him, she pointed out.
In his statement, Luis Jalandoni, NDFP national executive committee member and former chairman of its peace negotiating panel, called the arrest of Baylosis “a flagrant violation” of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, a 1995 pact between the NDFP and government, that “assures all consultants and those participating in peace negotiations immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation or any other similar punitive action” and said Duterte “must be held accountable for this trampling upon a valid peace agreement.”
At the same time, he said Baylosis and his companion “have the right to consult with their lawyers, be visited by their families, doctors, and friends” while in detention.
Jalandoni, who remains a senior consultant of the NDFP peace panel, also urged “all peace-loving people and organizations to mount a strong campaign demanding the immediate release of Rafael Baylosis and his companion Jun” and demand that Duterte respect all “binding peace agreements,” including the JASIG and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.”
“President Duterte must not be allowed to kill and destroy the peace negotiations,” he said.
NDFP senior political consultant and Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison, in a separate statement, said “every arrest of an NDFP peace negotiator or a consultant makes the resumption of peace negotiations more difficult and serves to further incite the armed revolution of the people.”
“The JASIG serves to protect the peace negotiators, consultants,security officers and staff of both sides,” Sison stressed.
“True to its signature on such a solemn agreement, the NDFP is not asking the CPP and NPA to retaliate against the negotiating personnel of the GRP (government)” but “asks the GRP to respect the JASIG to keep open the possible resumption of the peace negotiations,” Sison added.
Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, while not a counsel of Baylosis, said: “I strongly believe, based on our long professional experience and the immutable pattern and default modus operandi against political prisoners, that the firearms were planted to justify the arrest.”
This, he said, was “proof of the criminalization of political beliefs or activity” and constituted “circumventions, if not outright contempt, for his rights and immunities under solemn bilateral agreements that should apply to both Parties to the armed conflict.”
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said: “Rather than persecute peace consultants, Duterte should resume peace talks on the most important substantive agenda.”
He stressed that Baylosis “is no criminal. Resistance to injustice and working for a just peace are not crimes.”
ACT Teachers party-list Representatives Antonio Tinio and France Castro also slammed Baylosis’ arrest and called for his release.
Tinio noted that Duterte terminated the peace negotiations “just before (the NDFP and government) were about to sign the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms which would address the roots of the armed conflict.”
Baylosis’ arrest indicated Duterte “is persecuting peace consultants instead of pushing for peace and addressing the people’s clamor for social justice and peace.”
“The heart and soul of the peace talks, the CASER seeks to end poverty and social inequality through genuine land reform and national industrialization” and would have committed the government to answer the demands of the people for land, job security, higher salaries, education and health,” Castro said.