By JONAS ALPASAN
MANILA – The National Democratic Front of the Philippines filed a complaint before the Government of the Republic of the Philippines on the tailing and surveillance on its panel member and consultants in Manila last March 16.
In an April 6 letter to Philippine government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III, NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili protested the “annoying incident of surveillance and even harassment, brazenly directed” at panel member Benito Tiamzon, political consultant Wilma Austria, and legal consultant Edre Olalia.
On Mar. 16, Tiamzon, Austria, and another political consultant, Vicente Ladlad, arrived in Manila coming from the successful GRP-NDFP backchannel talks in Utrecht, The Netherlands which paved way for the continuation of the peace talks. Ironically, March 19 marks the 19th anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
From the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the Tiamzons and Olalia were met by Norwegian ambassador to the Philippines Erik Forner and his staff. They were on board diplomatic cars with diplomatic plates when they noticed two cars tailing them.
In his account, Olalia narrated how suspected state forces tailed them up to the gate of Forbes Park where the Norwegian ambassador resides. From Forbes Park, they were once again tailed by two burly motorcycle-riding men as they were en route to the Tiamzon’s drop off point.
“I henceforth kept an eye on the motorcycle and confirmed the tail, noticing that it did not maneuver in between cars during traffic, kept a close but visible distance, stopped when Car 3 (referring to the third diplomatic car) stops, moved when Car 3 moves, and even occasionally closed its headlight in an attempt to be inconspicuous,” Olalia said in his account.
After 15 minutes, Olalia said the motorcycle finally drove close to the diplomatic car they were riding.
“At which point, the driver of Car 3, upon our instructions, entered the expressway, where motorcycles were prohibited to enter, which forced it to be left behind, with the two men on board visibly upset,” he said.
They then decided to change route and eventually reached the designated drop-off point, Olalia added.
In his letter, Agcaoili said it was a violation of the rights and privileges of their consultants “as well as apparent threat on their liberty, security and even life, obviously by GRP security forces.”
Agcaoili said it was also a violation of various agreements and statements between the two parties, such as the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, the written guarantee of the GRP peace panel chairperson’s to the Norwegian embassy assuring the “safe and unhindered” departure of the Tiamzons and Ladlad for the informal talks, and the Utrecht Joint Statement regarding the safety and liberty of all consultants.
He added that it was also “an affront on the rights and privileges of missions, diplomats and protected persons, as well as their premises and their means of transport as provided in international instruments,” such as the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the 1973 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents.
Agcaoili said, “We hope you take the appropriate steps to look into this serious attack on the rights, liberty and even safety of our peace consultants and we expect the GRP to ensure that no repetition of the same shall occur.”