Philippine National Police chief, Director G eneral Oscar Albayalde, confirmed yesterday the arrest of the elusive Francisco Obeda Fernandez, a National Democratic Front consultant and head of the Communist movement in Negros Island, and two other rebels in Barangay Calumpang, Liliw, Laguna at 5:16 a.m. Sunday.
Albayalde said that Fernandez, his wife, Cleofe Sabadisto Lagtapon, and Gee-Ann Canedo Perez who are facing multiple charges, will face additional raps for violation of the Comelec gun ban and for possession of explosives.
He said Fernandez, 71, alias Ka Frank, Ago, Tatay, Uloy, Pidong and Andot, a native of Barangay Ilaya Dumanhog, Cebu City, is NDF chairman and spokesperson for Negros and regional deputy secretary for the organization.
Fernandez had a bounty of not less than P8 million over his head for rebellion, murder and attempted murder charges in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental, Brig. Gen. Benedict Arevalo, 303rd Brigade commander in Negros, said.
Lagtapon, 66, alias Guia, Ella, Pidang and Emay of Hinigaran, Negros Occidental, is the deputy regional secretary for education of the Komite Rehiyon-Negros Cebu Bohol Siquijor (KR-NCBS), and Perez alias Angie, 20, of Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, is a regional communications staff of KR-NCBS, Albayalde said.
They are facing murder and robbery cases in Cadiz City, Arevalo said.
The three were arrested during a service of warrant operation by the police and Army. Recovered from them were three .45caliber pistols, three magazines of .45-caliber pistols, 15 pieces of live ammunition and three hand grenades, subversive documents and three cellular phones, Albayalde said.
Aside from their pending cases, the three will also be charged for violation of the Comelec gun ban, violation of RA 10591 (Illegal possession of firearms), and RA 9516 (Illegal possession of explosives), he added.
‘HE NEEDED DIALYSIS’
Fernandez , the last of the true ideologues of the Communist rebel movement in Negros,who, as a young priest, had gone underground during the martial law years, is a criminal and will face the bar of justice, Arevalo said.
Arevalo said their intelligence work, with the help of some civilians, tracked the move of Fernandez and Lagtapon to Laguna in mid-February. Fernandez was trying to get dialysis treatment in Laguna, and he is also suffering from asthma and arthritis, Arevalo said.
The arrest of Fernandez has a very big implication, “We caught the number one big fish of the CPP-NPA in Negros. We have been running after him for the last 30 years so this is not just a victory for the unit, but this is a victory for the Filipino people, especially in Negros,” Arevalo said.
This shows that CPP-NPA members “cannot run away from justice even for so long, there is always a time for reckoning and justice will eventually be served,” he said.
“This has a big implication in terms of their moral, their organization, and their leadership” in the Communist movement, he said. It is also a big boost to government security forces after running after Fernandez for almost 30 years, Arevalo added.
“The implication is if we can catch Frank Fernandez, why can’t we catch the rest of them,” Arevalo said, stressing that they are still open to the rebels’ laying down their arms and coming down to talk peace.
What’s keeping the CPP-NDF alive is the NPA.We want to talk to the NPA commanders directly rather than talking to their political commanders, so we can help them renew and normalize their lives again, Arevalo said. They still have a second chance through local peace talks, he explained.
Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. said,“The arrest of Fernandez is long overdue, after 30 years of pursuit, and we are thankful he was finally arrested.”
Hopefully his arrest will bring peace to Negros, the governor said.
If Fernandez cooperates with government, he should call for an end to the 50-year rebellion, because if there is no peace there is no progress, he said.
Fernandez came from a small town in Cebu, and was assigned as priest in Negros. He was a sort of low-profile personality who was politicized with the declaration of martial law along with manyother priests in the Diocese of Bacolod, militant journalist Edgar Cadagat said.
In spite of several Negros priests embracing revisionism Fernandez remained loyal to the mainstream, he added.
Lagtapon was once chair of the militant women's group Gabriela-Negros.
“Fernandez’s capture would have little effect, the rectification movement has forged its stability,with almost all areas crisscrossed by guerilla fronts. His comrades could only salute him for his resoluteness,” Cadagat said.
PRAYING FOR SAFETY
San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza said “I pray for their safety and I pray that their fundamental human rights are respected even as they are made to account for whatever they’re accused of.”
Fernandez last assignment as a priest was at the San Vicente Ferrer Parish in Barangay Antipolo, Pontevedra. He was also assigned as assistant parish priest of Isabela town in Negros Occidental.
He became a fulltime rebel in 1980s although he had been militant even during his seminary days.
SARA ON ARREST
Davao Mayor Sara Duterte Carpio, who was campaigning with the Hugpong ng Pagbabago senatorial bets in Isabela, Negros Occidental, yesterday, said the president has already said there will nolonger be any peace talks with the communist rebels.
So the government is going after members of the CPP-NPA who have pending cases, she said.
She tried localized peace talks with the NPA in Davao but they really are not interested and not very straight-forward, Duterte said.
WHERE ARE THEY?
The militant human rights group, Karapatan, in a statement yesterday said lawyers and paralegals who were at Fort Bonifacio were still trying to ascertain the whereabouts of Fernandez and his two companions.
Karapatan raised the possibility that the three might be subjected to physical and psychological torture.*
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