MANILA - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Monday said the Tiamzon couple cannot use the joint agreement on safety and immunity (JASIG) as their defense because it has no effect on their standing warrants of arrest.
Under JASIG, which was signed by the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) back in 1995, people participating in the peace talks are immune from arrests.
Benito Tiamzon is the chairman of the CPP-NPA while his wife, Wilma, is the secretary general. They were nabbed by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Barangay Zaragosa, Aluginsan in Carcar, Cebu last Saturday.
THE NDF has asserted that the Tiamzon couple is covered by JASIG but the government panel insists otherwise.
Rachel Pastores, lawyer of the Tiamzon couple, said those listed in the JASIG list use aliases as a form of security.
"There is the id to prove that he is the person bearing that alias. The use of an alias is not an issue. This is unfortunate. We are hoping that this coming May, there will be talks and I hope that it will still push through," the lawyer said.
Malacañang, however, said that while Benito used an alias, the NDF failed to prove his identity thus voiding the agreement.
His wife, meanwhile, jumped bail in December 1989 before the JASIG came into effect, making her ineligible for protection.
De Lima said JASIG is only effective if there are ongoing peace talks, which is not the case.
"The issue on whether or not they are JASIG-covered would not have an effect on the validity of their arrests. These are outstanding warrants of arrest. Their immunity under JASIG...would not apply under the circumstances because it presupposes that there is an ongoing peace negotiation but we don't see that," she said.
De Lima also said the couple's criminal cases have nothing to do with the peace process.
The Tiamzon couple is facing cases of murder, multiple murder and frustrated murder before the regional trial court in Northern Samar.
The arrest of the couple is considered a big blow to the leftist movement. Malacañang said the government is prepared for any retaliatory attack.
"We are always aware, fully aware of the possibility of retaliation, and our Armed Forces are always to defend the population," Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
The government earlier said the CPP's armed wing, the NPA, is down to about 4,000 guerrillas from more than 26,000 in the late 1980s.
The rebels frequently ambush or raid small military and police units, as well as extort money from rural businesses, military officials say.
In April last year, President Benigno Aquino's government announced that the peace talks being brokered by Norway had collapsed, dampening hopes of a political settlement before the president's six-year term ends in mid-2016.
Manila has since asked Oslo to help the Philippine government convince the rebels to return to the negotiating table. With Agence France-Presse