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Pursue the peace talks and genuine post-Yolanda reconstruction, free Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria

A Press Statement by the National Democratic Front (NDF) Eastern Visayas
March 26, 2014

In behalf of the worst-hit region of the Supertyphoon Yolanda, we in the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Eastern Visayas express our strongest condemnation of the illegal arrest by the Aquino regime's security forces of Comrade Benito Tiamzon and Comrade Wilma Austria, senior leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), together with five other comrades last March 22. We join the peace advocates in demanding their immediate release in accordance with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) between the NDFP and the Government of the Philippines (GPH). We condemn the Aquino regime for fabricating criminal charges against the married couple and their companions, and for falsely claiming that such common crimes will negate the JASIG, among other contemptible excuses to deny the comrades their freedom.

To refresh the public's mind, after the supertyphoon hit last Nov. 8, the national leadership of the CPP declared a unilateral ceasefire in the affected regions in solidarity with the suffering people and for the facilitation of humanitarian aid. In Eastern Visayas, the NPA strictly observed a unilateral ceasefire that lasted for 60 days even while the Armed Forces of the Philippines carried out its brutal Oplan Bayanihan. The CPP leadership also directed the New People's Army (NPA) and other revolutionary forces to carry out relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in the affected regions. The NPA continues to help in the tilling of communal farms, promotion of quick-growing food and cash crops, rebuilding of ravaged communities, and other struggles to uplift the people's conditions in the wake of Supertyphoon Yolanda.

It is therefore a gross insult to the survivors of Supertyphoon Yolanda for the GPH to arrest Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria while they were performing their duties as CPP leaders overseeing how revolutionary work was helping the recovery in the storm-stricken areas in the Visayas. We are outraged at the depths that the Aquino regime can stoop to in bastardizing the peace process and the post-Yolanda reconstruction. While the NPA observed a unilateral ceasefire after the storm to concentrate on helping the people, the Aquino regime was sending armed troops to Tacloban City to quell the people's dissatisfaction at the absence of immediate relief. Without any shred of sympathy for the plight of the people, the GPH also refused a reciprocal ceasefire with the NPA whom it scorned as the “enemy of the state.” The Aquino regime also used the calamity to give license to the violation of national sovereignty by thousands of foreign troops using the pretext of humanitarian aid, as well as justify the forging of a new military agreement with the US allowing the virtually permanent basing of the latter's troops.

The Aquino regime also faces increasing criticisms, if not over the lack or wastage of relief goods, then over the distribution as well of rotten and worm-ridden goods in Eastern Visayas, among its other sins to the victims. The regime is engaged in high-level corruption with the private sector comprising the firms of the comprador big bourgeoisie and the imperialists that are monopolizing the post-Yolanda reconstruction. Even the so-called Reconstruction Assistance for Yolanda is a sell-out program diminishing, among others, the P75 billion damage to agri-fisheries, and thus denying the people's economic well-being. Meanwhile, the high government officials, compradors and imperialists are happy with the government reconstruction program assuring them of fat public works contracts. Coastal communities are also banned from rebuilding, thus displacing hundreds of thousands of urban poor and fisherfolk in favor of big business. If the people were already suffering even before Supertyphoon Yolanda struck, they are certainly worse off today and not just because of the storm. Survivors of calamity, they are now victims of the Aquino regime's anti-people reconstruction program.

The refusal to release Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria as NDFP peace consultants highlights the grim social conditions where the Aquino government's fascism and criminal negligence oppress the Yolanda survivors and the Filipino people. Even while the Yolanda survivors struggle to rebuild their lives in Eastern Visayas, the Aquino government pursues widespread militarization through Oplan Bayanihan to oppress the struggling people and retain exploitative conditions. Furthermore, the Yolanda survivors will not truly recover when government reconstruction means the further entrenchment of the big landlords, compradors, foreign mining capitalists and other imperialist interests.

The arrival at an agreement for socio-economic reforms is long overdue in the peace talks between the NDFP and GPH. Thus, if the Aquino government is at all interested in genuine recovery for the Yolanda survivors, it should speedily release Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria along with other peace consultants to resume the peace talks and tackle the highly significant subject of post-Yolanda reconstruction, among other socio-economic reforms. All political prisoners must likewise be released as a matter of justice. The longer the Aquino regime refuses to resume the peace talks, the more indignant will the Yolanda survivors and the people become, and the more militant in advancing their interests through the revolutionary armed struggle and the revolutionary mass movement.