Wanted Benito and Wilma Tiamzon — alleged leaders of the Maoist New People’s Army (NPA) — have yet to leave the country despite a recent court decision on Friday finding them guilty of kidnapping and serious illegal detention of three soldiers.
The Tiamzons, also being tagged as brains of the deadly purge of their comrades during a long program in the late 1980s to 1990s that led to a big split in the Maoist movement, were also found guilty of detention and murder of an anti-drug agent.
The soldiers and anti-narcotics agent were held by the rebels for two months before they were killed. The cases against them were only filed two years after the crime was committed.
But they were arraigned only in 2014 after their arrest in Cebu City.
The Tiamzons were sentenced by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court to reclusion perpetua (up to 40 years), and ordered to pay damages and indemnity of at least P225,000 to their victims.
President Rodrigo Duterte released the couple from detention in 2016 so that they could participate in the peace negotiations as consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the communist groups’ political arm.
They’ve been on the loose since then.
The government’s security cluster on Tuesday, however, vowed that it will not stop until they are captured.
National Security Adviser and National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) vice -chair Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr. assured this one day after Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año tasked the Philippine National Police (PNP) to intensify its hunt of the couple.
“Secretary Año is a former Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff. He was the ISAFP chief when Benito Tiamzon, the chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Central Committee in the Philippines; and his wife — the former Secretary General, were arrested in 2014. It’s only natural for Secretary Año to want to see them captured again,” Esperon said.
“He has the whole Philippine National Police with him. Of course, the Armed Forces is also in the picture,” he added.
Esperon, who is also a former military chief, echoed Año’s earlier disclosure that the couple is still in the country.
“As far as having leads regarding the Tiamzons’ whereabouts, I’d rather not divulge. What I can tell you is that we are closely watching their associates and the other consultants of the CPP and the New People’s Army (NPA). We will not sleep on this,” the official stated.
The couple is also facing multiple murder charges, along with CPP founding chair Jose Maria Sison, over the Inopacan Massacre of their comrades in Leyte. A mass grave for these purged rebels was unearthed by soldiers in 2006.
The CPP purge was driven by its leaders’ suspicion that the communist movement had been infiltrated by government agents. It is believed that hundreds of CPP members and affiliates were killed during the implementation of the program.
“We will go after them. They cannot run and hide forever. We will be chasing them,” Esperon vowed.
Meanwhile, Malacañang on Tuesday dared the Makabayan bloc in the Congress to admit that it is a “legal front” of the CPP. Its elected members were also asked to renounce armed struggle and the NPA.
This came after President Rodrigo Duterte said the military forces are “very correct” in “identifying” several groups as parts of the communist movement and “co-conspirators” in efforts to overthrow the government.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Makabayan bloc should just “come out” as communists, noting that believing in this ideology is not unlawful.
The official, however, said these groups should renounce armed struggle waged by the NPA as it is illegal.
“If you’re a member of CPP, you can be legal but you have to renounce the use of arms. Why don’t they renounce the use of arms? That’s all we’re asking,” Roque said.
In a related development, former Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro “Teddy” Casiño urged the security officials to present evidence that would prove his partymates’ links with the NPA.
“Show us. Whom did I recruit to the NPA? Whom did my colleagues encourage to join the NPA?” he asked.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Secretary Salvador Panelo also made the same challenge, saying elected Bayan Muna representatives should just admit being members of the CPP. (With reports from MJ Blancaflor, Hananeel Bordey and Francis Wakefield)