By RAYMUND B. VILLANUEVA
Guess what charges were filed against arrested National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Renante Gamara.
Like the complaints it filed against four NDFP consultants it arrested in succession in 2018, the Philippine National Police (PNP) charged Gamara and his companion, retired priest Arturo Balagat, with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Gamara and Balagat were arrested Wednesday afternoon in Poblacion II-A, Imus, Cavite and are being held at present at the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) of the PNP in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City yesterday.
Like his fellow NDFP consultants Rafael Baylosis, Adelberto Silva, Vicente Ladlad and Rey Claro Casambre, Gamara is facing charges of violations of RA 10591, the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.
The PNP said a .9 mm caliber pistol and two hand grenades were recovered from the detainees when arrested.
Gamara’s arrest brings to five the number of NDFP peace consultants arrested since President Rodrigo Duterte terminated peace talks with the Left in November 2017.
The youngest NDFP peace consultant, Randy Felix Malayao, 59, was killed inside a bus in Nueva Vizcaya last January 30.
Baylosis was released last January, however, after the Quezon city Regional Trial court dismissed the charges against him.
Duterte again announced his termination of the peace talks with the NDFP Thursday, three days after dissolving his negotiating panel led by labor secretary Silvestre Bello III.
Human rights group Karapatan condemned Gamara and Balagat’s arrest and accusing the police of filing yet another illegal firearms and explosives possession against the consultant.
“This is not only a time of unpeace where there is prevalence of human rights violations and impunity, it is also a period of targeted persecution and intimidation against those who continue to clamor for peace,” said Karapatan deputy secretary general Roneo Clamor.
“The government has again zeroed in on the persecution of peace consultants, instead of working to resolve the root causes of the armed conflict by way of pursuing peace negotiations,” Clamor added.
Karapatan revealed that the searcg warrant presented by the police in arresting Gamara was issued by the same Laguna court that ordered the arrest of Silva and four others in October 2018.
The Search Warrant was granted by Executive Judge Cynthia Marino-Ricablanca of RTC Branch 27 of the 4th Judicial Region of Sta. Cruz, Laguna.
Karapatan, however, said Gamara, 62, took part in the 2016 round of the peace negotiations as a consultant to the reciprocal working group on political and constitutional reforms, after posting bail on August 2016.
“He is supposedly covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), an agreement that seeks to provide protection and “free and unhindered” passage for individuals involved in the peace negotiations,” Clamor explained
Human rights lawyer Kristina Conti, the first to come to Gamara’s aid in Taguig said the grounds presented by the police in arresting Gamara and Balagat are all dubious as the two have no pending warrant in the courts.
Conti told Kodao that the bail Gamara posted in August 2016 when he was first released to enable his participation in formal peace negotiations throughout Europe applies to his previous cases.
Conti added it is grossly ignorant for the PNP to say that “Duterte ordered his arrest” because the president is not a proper judicial authority.
She added that the JASIG is still binding and it does not authorize the arrest of anyone without warrant or color of authority.
She also said that the firearms and explosives presented by the police were not owned by the detainees.
“They have no need for it…Mr Gamara is not wanted, not in hiding, and certainly not in possession of any contraband,” the lawyer told Kodao.
Conti also hit the the Regional Special Operations Unit of the NCRPO’s haste in calling for a press conference rather than ensuring the detainees’ right to due process.
“[T]o show that this was a political spectacle, RSOU prioritized the press con over preparing for the inquest,” Conti said.
NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili for his part called Gamara and Balagat’s arrest as illegal and condemnible.
“[T]he NDFP condemns in the strongest terms possible the illegal arrest of NDFP consultant Renante Gamara. As NDFP consultant in political and constitutional reforms, he is entitled to JASIG protection and guarantees,” Agcaoili told Kodao.