Rights group calls for release of peace consultant Maria Loida Magpatoc

Photo by Neil Ambion

Rights group Karapatan joined calls for the release of peace consultant Maria Loida Magpatoc, calling her arrest and detention anew “an additional obstacle in efforts to address the roots of the armed conflict in the country.”

“We call for the release of National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Maria Loida Magpatoc. These new charges against her are meant to vilify and discredit her work as peace consultant, in addition to her arbitrary inclusion in the list of the Anti-Terrorism Council,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

According to reports, Magpatoc, 62, was arrested on September 15 in Purok 3, Brgy. Paitan, Quezon town in Bukidnon by combined elements of the 88th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, Philippine Army and military intelligence agents.

“Trumped-up charges against Magpatoc and her most recent arrest show how the Duterte government has attacked the rights of peace consultants under signed agreements. These are also attacks to efforts to peace, which Magpatoc worked for and participated in since her release in 2016,” Palabay explained.

This is Magpatoc’s second arrest, and is reportedly based on the same warrant used to arrest her on July 28, 2013. Issued by Branch 7 of the Bayugan Regional Trial Court in Agusan del Sur on September 3, 2001, she was charged with robbery with double homicide and damage to properties. Meanwhile, the military said Magpatoc also has a warrant of arrest for alleged murder, issued by RTC Branch 10 in Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte.

“If there is indeed a new case against Magpatoc, we have reason to believe that this is another trumped-up charge meant to pin her down, prolong her jail time and silence her dissenting views on how do we really attain genuine peace in the country,” Palabay added.

Magpatoc was among the NDFP peace consultants released by the Duterte government in August 2016 to be able to participate in the resumption of formal peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP. The NDFP stated that Magpatoc is a member of the NDFP Negotiating Panel, and works with the Reciprocal Working Group on Social and Economic Reforms (SER). She was present in the third round of talks in Rome, Italy in January 2017, where free land distribution to farmers was discussed as part of the program of the draft Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms.

“In various fora and discussions regarding the peace talks, we have witnessed Magpatoc’s knowledge, experience and unwavering stand on the plight of farmers and the rural poor for genuine land reform and development in the countryside. As a political prisoner at the Taguig City Jail, she looked after the well-being of fellow women political prisoners and common prisoners,” Palabay said.

“The Duterte government has repeatedly disregarded the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) signed by the government and the NDFP, which provides safety and immunity to peace consultants from arrest and other threats, including Magpatoc, even without formal peace talks. While knowing the notoriety of the Duterte government’s denial, distortion and disregard of previously signed agreements on peace, we assert that such agreements that both the government and the NDFP signed must be respected and recognized at all times. With or without the formal talks, these are rights that are never cancelled,” she added.

Under JASIG, all duly accredited persons are guaranteed free and unhindered passage in all areas in the Philippines, and in travelling to and from the Philippines in connection with the performance of their duties in the negotiations. Duly accredited persons are those in possession of documents of identification (DI) or safe conduct passes. Immunity guarantees for all accredited persons include immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation or any other similar punitive actions due to any involvement or participation in the peace negotiations.

“We call on all peace advocates to call for the release of Magpatoc. Duterte’s militarist approach in addressing the armed conflict through his counterinsurgency program has resulted in numerous human rights violations. Duterte and his ilk of former military and police generals should be held accountable for these violations and for perpetuating the state of unpeace in the country,” Palabay said.