Philippine officials said yesterday they will not release two leaders of a violent rebel group fighting to overthrow the government, whose arrests were a major setback for the long-running insurgency.
Communist rebels have demanded the release of Benito Tiamzon, chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and his wife Wilma Austria, who were intercepted in Carcar, Cebu, on Saturday, Philippine Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista said.
The arrest of the Philippines’ top communist leaders came a week ahead of the 45th anniversary of the group’s armed struggle, when it is expected to launch attacks on government targets, Bautista said.
The two had been blocking peace negotiations and ordering followers to step up attacks against plantations, mines, telecommunications and construction firms to raise funds to finance their revolution, according to the Philippine military.
Bautista said the arrest was a victory those who work for peace.
“We will continue to strengthen our resolve to bring other criminals to justice in honor of the victims of the violence perpetrated by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army and in honor of our people who deserve to live in peace and developed society,” he said.
The 3,000-member New People’s Army, the armed wing of the party, has been waging a protracted guerrilla war for a communist state from the rural countryside.
The conflict has killed more than 40,000 people. The Philippine government offered a 5.6 million peso (US$123,600) reward for the arrest of Benito Tiamzon in 2012.
The couple face charges of crimes against humanity, including multiple murders, Bautista said in a statement late on Saturday.
They were taken to a military camp in Cebu.
The statement provided no other details about the arrests. Local media reports said that five other people were arrested along with the Tiamzons.
In a statement from the Dutch city of Utrecht where he lives in exile, chief rebel negotiator Luis Jalandoni condemned the arrests, saying that the Tiamzons carry Philippine government-acknowledged safe conduct passes as “consultants” in the peace talks.
Jalandoni said Tiamzons “have fulfilled and are fulfilling highly significant tasks in the peace negotiations” and demanded their immediate release.
The rebels say the two were consultants in stalled peace talks who were granted temporary immunity from arrests under a 1995 accord with the Philippine government.
However, government peace negotiators said they could no longer verify if Tiamzon, who uses a rebel alias, was on a secured list of rebels given immunity from arrests. His wife was ineligible because she escaped from jail in 1989 and jumped bail, Philippine officials said.
A list of 75 rebel consultants supposedly with pictures was jointly deposited by the Philippine government, the rebels and church witnesses in a Dutch vault in 1996 so it could serve as a future basis for identifying guerrilla consultants who could be immune from arrests.
However, Philippine officials and the rebels discovered in 2011 that two discs containing the list have been damaged with the passage of time and its details could no longer be retrieved. It made it impossible for the Philippine government to verify rebel claims that some of their captured comrades were in the roster of guerrillas with immunity.