Free Renante Gamara! Stop political persecution of peace consultants!

Karapatan strongly condemns the illegal arrest of another peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) on the evening March 20, 2019. Peace consultant Renante Gamara and his companion, Arturo Balagat, a former priest, were reportedly arrested by combined elements of the Special Action Force (SAF) and the Philippine Army. They were brought to Camp General Pantaleon Garcia in Imus, Cavite at around 10:30PM yesterday, and are now both in NCRPO Bicutan. Both were charged with trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. 

As of this writing, a quick reaction team (QRT) composed of paralegals and lawyers are assisting the victims. The arrest of Gamara is at the backdrop of the termination of appointments of the GRP negotiating panel, in line with the Duterte government’s decision to formally terminate the peace talks with the NDFP. “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. NDFP consultant Randy Malayao was killed in January 2019, peace advocates are being threatened, and now, trumped-up charges will unjustly put another peace advocate behind bars,” 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. The militarists in the Cabinet, including the new head of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), former AFP Chief Carlito Galvez, have poured their efforts to reverse the substantial gains from the 2016 round of talks, and block any efforts to move these gains forward. Galvez, recently, even announced that the government is temporarily suspending the Hague Joint Decleration and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, pending further evaluation. This is a regrettable reversal of the strides and efforts of past negotiations,” added Clamor.

Clamor emphasized that the same modus operandi used to arrest other peace consultants such as Vicente Ladlad, Adelberto Silva, Rafael Baylosis, and Rey Casambre, is now being employed against Gamara. A warrant of arrest for trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, issued by the same Laguna court who released a warrant for the arrest of Adelberto Silva and four others, was used as basis for Gamara and Balagat’s arrest. Back in October 2018, Silva was arrested along with agriculturist Edisel Legaspi, woman human rights defender and Gabriela member Hedda Calderon, labor organizer Ireneo Atadero, and their driver Julio Lusania. 

Renante 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. Gamara was previously arrested over trumped-up murder charges back in April 2012, where he was tortured while in detention. 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.

The Karapatan official explained that this is in line with the Duterte government’s choice for a militarist and fascist response. He said that this is also a direct result of the government’s legal offensive, which has already put hundreds in jail on the basis of fabricated charges. “This is all in keeping with their operations under the Inter Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA). We see connivance between government security forces and the courts to criminalize peace advocates. This is now becoming a trend, to feign legality amid the deliberate political persecution of known critics and activists genuinely working for change,” he added.

Clamor cited that as of December 2018, there are 548 political prisoners in the country. Of this number 119 are sickly, 48 are elderly and 66 are women. The arrest of Gamara puts the number of detained NDF consultants to eight. 

“We continuously call for the resumption of the peace talks. Peace must be based on social justice, and thus would need holistic and substantial, yet realistic reforms in our political and economic system. We call for the immediate release of Renante Gamara and Arturo Balagat, and the dismissal of the trumped-up cases against them. We also demand the dismissal of fabricated cases against all political prisoners,” ended Clamor.

Reference: Roneo Clamor, Deputy Secretary General, +639997721233

Karapatan Public Information Desk, 0918-9790