Karapatan scores OPAPP, conviction of NDFP consultant impedes peace talks

Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights and other people’s organizations stormed the office of Secretary Teresita "Ging" Deles of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) in protest of the continuing detention and conviction of National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Eduardo Sarmiento. 

Free Ed Sarmiento  The group expressed its outrage and concern through a strongly worded letter saying, "... the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP)... promotes discord and contempt with the peace talks, through the continuous arrest and conviction of NDFP consultants, rather than fulfill its mandate to foster just and lasting peace in the country."

The letter, signed by Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay stated, "We view the recent conviction of Sarmiento... as another blow impeding the peace process between the two parties and a clear indication of the Aquino government’s insincerity to resume the peace talks."

Sarmiento was arrested on February 2009 in Metro Manila by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police. Without any warrant, Sarmiento was blindfolded, forced into a van, interrogated and tortured for 24 hours. Later, Sarmiento found out he was facing a charge of illegal possession of explosives for a grenade that the arresting officers claimed to have found in his possession. The grenade was planted evidence. 

Nearing five years of imprisonment at the Custodial Center of the Camp Crame PNP Headquarters in Quezon City, Sarmiento was convicted with life imprisonment in December 2013 in promulgation issued by the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 203. Other trumped up charges against Sarmiento in the Eastern Visayas were dismissed for lack of evidence.

"For Karapatan, the case of Eduardo Sarmiento illustrates the injustices being suffered by all political prisoners in the country—rights violations which are being perpetuated by the Benigno S. Aquino administration through its counter-insurgency program OplanBayanihan," the letter said. "At present, 449 political prisoners—154 of them illegally arrested and detained under the current administration—remain imprisoned," Karapatan stated. 

"The Aquino administration through the OPAPP ...is mocking the peace negotiations by not respecting and rendering inoperative the agreements such as The Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL)—agreements painstakingly forged throughout the years," Karapatan said. The JASIG provides protection for NDFP peace consultants and staffs from arrest and detention in order to perform their duties and push through the program for just and lasting peace. 

"We challenge the Aquino administration and the OPAPP be true to its words in “forging peace” and not turning the negotiating tables around. It should respect The Hague Declaration, JASIG and the CARHRIHL. We also call on the GPH and the OPAPP to stop attacking the previous bilateral agreements, resume the peace talks and release all political prisoners now," Karapatan called on the OPAPP. 

Meanwhile, Karapatan condemned the latest arrest and detention of Dionisio Almonte, 56 years old, and wife Gloria Almonte on the night of January 9, the first documented political arrest in 2014. 

Dionisio is an organizer in Pagsanjan, Laguna, while Gloria is a sari-sari store owner. He is currently in Metro Manila to seek treatment for his severe diabetes, slip disc and other ailments. 

"We are now on the second phase of BS Aquino's OplanBayanihan where human rights violations are disguised as legitimate police operations, such as this case yet, the motive for political repression and persecution still exist," said Palabay. 

"We fear that the year 2014 will be haunted by more arrests and more numbers of political prisoners in the country," Palabay said. "The Filipino people have more reasons to fight against a corrupt, negligent and war mongering regime," she ended.