When Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Gen. Gregorio Catapang was questioned by Sen. Francis Escudero on the real identity of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal last month, the General simply responded that the AFP does not pretend to know Iqbal’s real name. They simply treated Iqbal’s “nom de guerre” (name in the struggle) as if it were his real name.
But when National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Adelberto Silva, 67, was arrested last June 1, the AFP was quick to declare that Silva was not covered under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) under the alias Percival Rojo. He was arrested with wife and fellow activist Sharon Cabusao and companion Isidro De Lima.
The JASIG was signed by the Philippine government (GPH) and the NDFP in February 1995 precisely to prevent the arrest, detention, harassment, prosecution, surveillance, and interrogation of peace negotiators by the two sides. This is to prevent such incidents that jeopardize the negotiations and thereby create a favorable atmosphere for the talks.
Apart from being a peace consultant of the NDFP, Silva is a veteran labor leader who is also currently a consultant of the labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno or KMU. Meanwhile Cabusao is a founding member of Gabriela, former editor of the Pinoy Weekly paper, and consultant of the independent labor institution Crispin B. Beltran Resource Center.
Government Peace Panel chairman Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer defended Iqbal’s use of a pen name as part of the security measures used by revolutionaries: “They have security considerations as well as privacy concerns for their families, so the decision to divulge such information can only come from them, as it is their lives and families that are at stake,” Ferrer said.
And yet this stance towards the MILF peace negotiators by the Aquino government does not seem to apply to communist revolutionaries under the NDFP. AFP Public Affairs Office Chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc was quick to say that there is no evidence of Silva being covered by JASIG simply because the name carried by Silva in his JASIG document is the alias Percival Rojo.
Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Aquino’s ruling Liberal Party easily brushed off the issue of the MILF leader’s use of aliases. “Detractors are making a mountain out of a molehill just because a leader of a revolutionary organization like the MILF is using a nom de guerre. The question is, is this enough to throw away our best chance at achieving peace?” he asked.
At the same time, however, the Aquino government deceitfully uses same the arguments employed by the opponents of the MILF peace talks when it comes to the arrest of NDFP revolutionary leaders. This disconnect is not mere coincidence but seems to be a long-standing policy during the now nearly 6-year term of the Aquino administration.
Many other peace consultants of the NDFP were also illegally arrested by state forces in spite being JASIG holders. A prime example is that of alleged Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Chairman Benito Tiamzon who was arrested last year with his wife Wilma Austria, despite bearing a JASIG document under the alias Crising Banaag.
The case of Wilma Austria, also alleged to be the CPP Secretary General herself, is even worse: she was arrested in spite of holding a JASIG document under her very own name.
The arrests of NDFP consultants, according to the human rights group Karapatan, also violated the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHIHL) signed by the NDFP with the government. There are presently 16 NDFP consultants in detention among the 527 political prisoners in the country, said Karapatan.
The Aquino regime speaks of peace while pursuing a militaristic approach against the more than 40-year armed rebellion raging in the countryside. By continuing to arrest rebel peace negotiators and consultants, it is showing its thorough lack of seriousness in addressing the root causes of the armed conflict such as injustice, hunger, poverty, and inequality.
This only shows the emptiness of the Aquino government’s peace overtures with rebel groups. The Aquino regime’s continued violation of JASIG by the arrest and abduction of the very individuals who are supposed to be working on the peace talks only proves its hypocrisy.
Note: I wrote this article for thepoc.net