NDFP consultant Frank Fernandez, wife Cleofe Lagtapon and companion Ge-Ann Perez deserve release on just and humanitarian ground

Human rights alliance Karapatan renewed calls for the release of an NDFP consultant, his wife, and their companion whose trumped-up case for illegal possession of firearms and explosives is scheduled for promulgation on February 27, 2023.

Frank Fernandez, his wife Cleofe Lagtapon and their companion Ge-Ann Perez were arrested at around 12:30 a.m. on March 24, 2019 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 AM, 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 Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay. “The five hours that had elapsed between their arrest and the photo-ops was ample time for the arresting operatives to plant guns and grenades.”

On top of these injustices, the three were likewise subjected to interrogation without benefit of counsel, and deprived of food and sleep which qualify as torture. This, despite the fact that at the time of their arrest, Fernandez was 71 years of age and Lagtapon, 66. Both frail, they suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In addition, Fernandez suffers from angina and hyponatremia and is hypertensive. Lagtapon is likewise pre-diabetic. Perez, on the other hand, was suffering from Hansen’s disease. In fact, they were all under treatment for these ailments when they were arrested.

Fernandez, Lagtapon and Perez were among the many sick and elderly political prisoners whose release on humanitarian grounds was sought by families of political prisoners in a petition before the Supreme Court in April 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The petition was denied.

“But hopes have been raised for their acquittal after we received reports that at their trial, the arresting team failed to identify Ge-Ann Perez. The police likewise provided vague and conflicting narratives of what transpired during the arrest, thus rendering their version of events even more doubtful,” said Palabay.

“We call on the court hearing their case to serve the interests of justice and acquit Fernandez, Lagtapon and Perez, who have already suffered one injustice after another, and whose release on humanitarian grounds is well deserved,” she concluded.