A Philippine court issued arrest warrants Wednesday for three senior consultants of the communist rebel movement, two months after President Rodrigo Duterte shut off peace negotiations aimed at ending one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies.
The court in Manila recommended no bail for Benito Tiamzon and his wife, Wilma, as well as Adelberto Silva, who are being sought on charges related to 15 counts of murder.
All three are consultants of the National Democratic Front, the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and were among dozens of rebel leaders released by Duterte shortly after he assumed the presidency in 2016.
The court issued the warrants on Jan. 11 at the government’s request to cancel the trio’s bail bonds. It released the decision publicly on Wednesday.
Their lawyer, Edre Olalia, said they would appeal the ruling, even if it was “seemingly a long shot under the present circumstances.
“We maintain that the peace negotiations have not yet been terminated properly and in accordance with the solemn and binding protocol mutually agreed upon by the parties,” Olalia said in a statement, noting that Duterte could not unilaterally end the talks.
Olalia said official notification of talks was “warranted by fairness, practicality and principle.”
“No one in his right mind will participate in any peace negotiations if the protections and guarantees of safety and immunity for such involvement can easily be brushed aside, even under the colorable legal theater of one party,” Olalia argued.
In November, Duterte called off talks aimed at ending the CPP’s Maoist rebellion, which began in 1969. Tens of thousands have been killed in the insurgency, one of the longest rebellions in the world that has also stunted growth in the Philippine countryside.
The government accused the rebels of treachery by launching a series of attacks that left several civilians killed, including a young girl. Military estimates have placed the strength of the CPP’s armed unit, the New People’s Army (NPA), at about 5,000 fighters.
The exiled founder of the communist party, Jose Maria Sison, said he had been willing to meet with Duterte, his one-time student, at a mutually accepted “neutral venue” outside the Philippines.
He said he considered this after the local press quoted Duterte as saying that he might be willing to meet with Sison.
But now, with the arrest of rebel negotiators, Sison said it had become “too difficult or impossible to have any kind of serious conversation or negotiations anywhere with someone already crazed by power.” He also accused Duterte of descending quickly into “fascist dictatorship.”
“His main interest now in the CPP and the NPA is to make them the scapegoats to justify martial rule and military campaigns of mass murder,” Sison said in a statement. He stressed that Duterte had used the threat of communist rebellion as a reason to extend martial law in the south.
There was “something terribly wrong with Duterte’s mentality and behavior,” Sison said.
Still, he said, the rebels were grateful to the president for making it absolutely clear that Duterte was responsible for the collapse of talks.
“They are responsible for the termination of the peace negotiations and for the rising intensity of the people’s armed revolution for national and social liberation against the oppressive and exploitative state,” Sison said.