MANILA - Soldiers and police should not have arrested communist leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon because they are considered immune from criminal charges, National Democratic Front (NDF) negotiating panel chairman Luis Jalandoni insisted on Monday.
Jalandoni, in an interview on ANC Top Story, opposed Justice Secretary Leila de Lima's statement that there were no ongoing peace talks when Benito, chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA), and his wife CPP-NPA secretary general Wilma, were arrested in Carcar, Cebu, on Saturday afternoon.
"It's wrong for De Lima to say peace negotiations are not on when the government, NDF panels are not talking," he said.
Jalandoni claimed that "other units" are in talks with the government peace panel.
De Lima said on Monday said the Tiamzons can't invoke the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) between the government and the communist movement because it is only effective if there are ongoing peace talks.
The Tiamzons are facing cases of murder, multiple murder, and frustrated murder before a regional trial court in Northern Samar.
They were also charged for multiple murder at Branch 18 in Hilongos, Leyte. The case is now under Manila RTC Branch 32 Judge Mario de la Cruz.
The charge is in relation to the alleged involvement of the Tiamzons in the killing of 15 civilians in Inopacan, Leyte, whose bodies were supposedly discovered in a mass grave in 2006.
In April last year, the government announced that the peace talks being brokered by Norway had collapsed.
Manila has since asked Oslo to help the Philippine government convince the rebels to return to the negotiating table.
Jalandoni, who lives in exile in the Netherlands along with CPP founder Jose Maria Sison, denied Monday that peace talks have collapsed.
"Peace negotiations as a whole are still ongoing and the agreements that had been signed are still binding and effective," he said.
He added that the JASIG is still "binding and effective" even if peace talks are stalled.
The government peace panel, in a statement Sunday on the Tiamzons' immunity claim, said the two communist leaders are not covered by JASIG.
"You will recall that both the NDF and the GPH agreed to a procedure in July 2011 to verify the true identities of several dozen alleged NDF consultants in the list of JASIG –protected individuals carrying aliases. But through no fault of government, the NDF failed to open their own files that purportedly contained the photos and true identities of the said NDF consultants. This failure had the effect of rendering the JASIG inoperative for those using aliases and those who are not directly involved in the peace process. If indeed Benito Tiamzon was listed under an alias, he is no longer covered by the JASIG," it said.
It added that Wilma Tiamzon, meanwhile, jumped bail when she escaped from detention on December 26, 1989, when there were no peace talks, and 6 years before the JASIG came into effect.
"This makes her ineligible for JASIG protection, even assuming she was identified in the JASIG list by her real name."
The peace panel described the protest against the couple's arrest as "ridiculous."
"To sustain their claim to JASIG protection is ridiculous because that would mean they can wage war and violence against government and when caught, claim JASIG protection and expect to be released. It is even more outrageous considering that the peace negotiations have not moved for over a year now," it said.