“There is nothing most fearful, most oppressive and most unjust than the way political prisoners are being treated under this regime.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Relatives of peace consultants fear even more for the safety of their loved ones who have been designated as terrorists by the Anti-Terror Council.
In an online press briefing, May 14, relatives and lawyers of National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultants Vicente Ladlad, Rey Claro Casambre, Adelberto Silva and Rafael Baylosis said the ATC’s list has caused them anxiety and frustration.
Ladlad, Casambre and Silva are currently detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan over what their lawyers said are trumped-up criminal charges. Baylosis, meanwhile, has been released in 2019 following the dismissal of illegal possession of firearms and explosives filed against him. They are among the 19 individuals listed by the ATC in its May 13 resolution.
The Office of Solicitor General, during the oral arguments before the Supreme Court, said that designation will only lead to freezing of bank assets and not arrests. This does not provide comfort for relatives of those in the ATC’s list.
“Even those who are detained can be ordered killed, like what happened to the Leyte mayor,” Fides Lim, wife of Ladlad, said in a mix of English and Filipino. “Before COVID-19, political prisoners received reports that they would be attacked on their way to court hearings.”
Lim was referring to Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte who was shot dead while detained at the Baybay City Provincial Jail in 2016.
“Our fears are grounded,” Lim said, adding that she and other relatives of political prisoners have also experienced threats and harassment from suspected state security forces.
“There is nothing most fearful, most oppressive and most unjust than the way political prisoners are being treated under this regime,” Lim said.
The petition filed by rights group KAPATID seeking to release political prisoners on humanitarian grounds was not granted by the high court. Ladlad is suffering from asthma-COPD overlap syndrome (ACOS) while Casambre is taking medicines for diabetes and Silva has hypertension and underwent a heart surgery.
Seven NDFP peace consultants have been killed since Duterte assumed power, according to human rights alliance Karapatan.
Casambre’s daughter Xandra Bisenio said the ATC’s move is a desperate act. “He is already detained. What more do they want?” she asked.
Lawyers handling the cases of seven peace consultants in the list could not believe how their detained clients ended up in the ATC’s list.
Carlos Montemayor of Public Interest Law Center (PILC) said Casambre, Ladlad and Silva have been detained for more than two years, even before the enactment of the Anti-Terror Act. In fact, Casambre is one of the petitioners seeking the nullification of the ATA.
Kristina Conti, also of PILC, also fears that the designation will lead to human rights violations against those in the ATC list. Conti recalled that after the Department of Justice filed a petition to proscribe the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army as terrorist organizations in 2018, trumped-up charges against NDFP peace consultants followed suit.
Listed as respondents in the petition are more than 600 individuals purportedly officers and members of the communist groups. The list was eventually trimmed down to eight names.
Silva’s wife Sharon Cabusao-Silva, meanwhile, said the designation might affect the cases filed against her husband and other political prisoners in courts.
“Will this override the legal proceedings?” she asked in Filipino.
Cabusao-Silva warned that the ATC’s designation could open the floodgates to more abuses against other individuals and organizations critical of the Duterte administration.
Freezing of assets
Lim warned the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas against freezing of her husband’s Land Bank account.
Lim said the only huge deposit or entire property under Ladlad’s name is the compensation he received from the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB) in May 2018. The amount includes the reparation for his sufferings as a political prisoner during martial law and for the disappearance of his first wife Leticia Pascual Ladlad in November 1975.
“I will safeguard every centavo of Vic’s deposit in the Land Bank. To BSP Gov. Benjamin Diokno: This is blood money. Don’t be complicit in the McCarthy witchhunting spree of the Anti-Terrorism Council. Only Vic has the right to his compensation claim,” Lim said.
Both Cabusao-Silva and Bisenio also said that their loved ones have not amassed any wealth.
“Adel dedicated 50 years of his life for the workers. We do not have any property,” Cabusao-Silva said.
Bisenio said her parents have been living a simple life. “To be able to bring home roasted peanuts for Nanay, Lolo Rey would walk instead of riding a tricycle,” she said.
Montemayor said they are exploring all legal remedies for their clients.
He said however that the ATA and even the implementing rules and regulations do not inspire confidence.
The OSG said petition for delisting can be filed with the ATC, and, if dismissed, can be appealed to the President.
“How do we appeal with the very council which did the designation?” Montemayor said.
Hindrance to resolution of the armed conflict
In a statement, Pilgrims for Peace said the inclusion of peace consultants and negotiating panel members on the designation list “undermines the atmosphere of goodwill and trust needed to pursue peace negotiations, in order to address the roots of the armed conflict in the country.”
“It narrows possibilities when those who have openly participated in peace negotiations have been illegally arrested and detained, charged with trumped-up cases in court, and now, face designation as ‘terrorist,’” the group said.