Karapatan renews call for release of peace consultant Fr. Frank Fernandez, 2 others on just and humanitarian grounds

Two months after the illegal arrest of peace consultant and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) - Negros spokesperson Fr. Frank Fernandez, 71, Cleofe Lagtapon, 66, and Ge-ann Perez, 20, Karapatan renewed calls for their immediate release on just and humanitarian grounds. 
 
Per Fernandez’s medical abstract, he suffers from chronic artery disease, chronic stable angina, hypertension stage 2- uncontrolled, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and hyponatremia, among others. Lagtapon similarly suffers from COPD, apart from her frail health due to her age. Perez, though still 20-year-old, has leprosy and is in need of constant medical attention.

“We strongly urge the government to free Fernandez, Lagtapon, and Perez due to the severity of their health conditions. Not only should they be released on humanitarian grounds, but charges against them should be immediately dismissed as these are fabricated. Do our jail facilities have the capacity to provide sustained care for leprosy patients like Perez? We highly doubt it. In our work assisting political prisoners, people like Fernandez and Perez will likely be subjected to unnecessary ordeals – otherwise preventable with regular medical attention – that further the injustice that they’ve endured,” said Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor.

The three were charged with fabricated cases of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, and are now detained in detention facilities in Camp Bagong Diwa. “Under the Duterte administration, four political prisoners have already died in detention due to dire prison conditions, poor nutrition, and inadequate medical attention and facilities. The likelihood of another political prisoner dying behind bars is high, as minimum international standards are outrightly ignored. The death of another political detainee will attest to the ineffective justice system and double standard in this country, not to mention the inhumane conditions in Philippine jails that are comparable to torture,” added Clamor, citing the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners as the prevailing standard at the international level. 

Clamor also pointed out that on May 3, 2019, counsels of Fernandez et al. already filed a motion to suppress evidence, citing false witnesses and allegations made by arresting officers, unlawful arrest and search, and planting and manufacturing of evidence. Furthermore, the Karapatan officer reiterated that during the illegal arrest, the victims narrated being subjected to unending interrogation and deprivation of food and sleep, which can be considered as forms of torture. 

The victims were forcefully brought out of the residence they were renting in Laguna at around 12:30AM on March 24, 2019. The three were unable to bring any belongings, and Lagtapon even had to ask permission from the apprehending team to retrieve her and Fernandez’s dentures. They were also interrogated and kept under custodial investigation without counsel, mostly blindfolded and handcuffed.

Their motion to suppress evidence further argued the following:

1. Police’s allegations that Fernandez et al. were arrested at 5:30AM are false. The victims narrated that they were taken at 12:30AM and were even brought to various places, including a medical facility in Bay, Laguna and at a venue where they met Magdaleno Peña, mayor of Moises Padilla town in Negros Occidental. In both instances, the victims’ testimonies can be verified by hospital records and a Facebook video posted by the said mayor.

2. After Fernandez et al. were taken at around 12:30AM, they were taken back to the house they rented in Brgy. Calumpang, Nagcarlan, Laguna by 5:30AM. During this time, the planted evidence has already been neatly stacked in a table for posed photographs and fake inventory. There is a five-hour gap from the time that the three were taken, to the time that they were returned to the house, leaving the operatives with more than enough time to plant firearms and grenades.

“The manner of their arrest is unlawful and the deliberate cruelty with which the victims were subjected to is indicative of State forces’ lack of regard towards people. Apparently, operatives only hesitate and even delicately handle convicted plunderers like Imelda Marcos who can afford her way out of prison, with money and connections. Fernandez and Lagtapon are both consultants to the peace negotiations between the NDFP and the Philippine Government, and they should not be prosecuted and politically persecuted for their roles in the peace process,” explained Clamor. She further linked their arrest to operations manned by the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA), which has spurred numerous cases of judicial harassment and legal offensives against activists, human rights defenders, and even peace consultants.

“Our support for the peace process and our continued call for the release of political prisoners are grounded on aspirations for just and lasting peace in the country. It is our responsibility to call out government officials and state forces on their irregular conducts and corrupt dealings, as well as advocate for the likes of Fernandez, Perez, and Lagtapon who are unjustly detained for their work and political beliefs,” ended Clamor.
 

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