Karapatan condemns conviction of Frank Fernandez and wife Cleofe Lagtapon

Human rights alliance Karapatan condemned the conviction today of peace consultant Frank Fernandez and his wife Cleofe Lagtapon on trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms by Taguig City Regional Trial Court Branch 266. Fernandez, 75, and Lagtapon, 65, were acquitted of illegal possession of explosives and violation of the election gun ban. Their co-accused Ge-Ann Perez was acquitted of all charges.

“This decision is a clear travesty of justice,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay. “We strongly support their assertion that the trove of grenades and guns used against them were planted by security forces who arbitrarily arrested them. This is aside from the absurd possibility that two elderly and ailing individuals could have those items in their possession. There were also inconsistencies in the details of their arrest based on the accounts of the arresting authorities.”

Fernandez, Lagtapon and Perez were arrested at around 12:30 a.m. on March 24, 2019 during a joint police and military operation in Liliw, Laguna. They were brought to various places, including a medical facility in Bay, Laguna and at a place where they met Moises Padilla town Mayor Magdaleno Peña. Hospital records and a Facebook post by Mayor Peña prove that they had already been in custody long before 5:30 a.m., the time policemen claim the three were arrested.

At 5:30 a.m. of March 24, 2019, Fernandez, Lagtapon and Perez were brought back to the house, where the firearms and explosives comprising the so-called evidence against them had already been laid neatly on a table, ready for ‘inventory’ and ‘photo-ops’,” said Palabay. “Five hours had elapsed between their arrest and the photo-ops, giving the arresting operatives ample time to plant guns and grenades.”

“Their trial was marked by irregularities, including the admission of fabricated evidence and perjured testimonies of prosecution witnesses,” said Palabay. “Despite these irregularities, the court decided to convict them.” Prosecution witnesses failed to identify Perez, leading to her acquittal.

“We stand with Frank Fernandez, Cleofe Lagtapon and all other political prisoners who have been unjustly detained and convicted on trumped-up charges,” said Palabay. “We will continue to monitor this case closely and their lawyers will file an appeal. We in the human rights community will likewise do everything we can to ensure that justice is served.”

Palabay added: “We reiterate the call for the immediate release of Fernandez and Lagtapon and all political prisoners subjected to these forms of political persecution.”