Court orders arrest of Joma Sison, others for 1985 massacre

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 6) — A local court has ordered the arrest of communist leader Jose Maria Sison and 37 other people for their alleged involvement in a massacre three decades ago.

Branch 32 of the Manila Regional Trial Court issued the warrant of arrest on August 28 for 15 counts of murder; a copy of the document was obtained by the media on Friday.

Aside from Sison, founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines who is in self-exile in the Netherlands, National Democratic Front of the Philippines' chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni was also ordered arrested. The NDFP represents rebels in talks to end the communist movement's five-decade armed insurgency.

The warrant also covered known communist leaders Rodolfo Salas, Leo Velasco, Jose Luneta, and Prudencio Calubid; NDFP peace consultant Eduardo Sarmiento, former priest Nick Ruiz, and Sison's wife Juliet.

The warrant, signed by Presiding Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina, was addressed to "any lawful officer" to bring the suspects before the court "as soon as possible." Copies of the order were also given to the police, Bureau of Immigration, and the National Bureau of Immigration.

The rest of the accused in the so-called Inopacan Massacre of 1985 are: Geronimo Pasetes, Francisco Pascual, Jr., Mil Lominion, Fortunato Felicilda, Benjamin Beringel, Qurino Quinawayan, Fernando Rachel, Pecario Sonana, Jesus Solayao, Lino Salazar, Alfredo Taladro, Tito Gabar, Muco Lubong, Felix Dumali, Ciriaca Malimot, Luzviminda Orillo, Anselmo Balduhesa, Alfredo Mabingay, Bertino Oroza, Bonifacio Padoc, Rodrigo Papiona, Prescillono Beringel, Anastacio Dorias, Sammy Labarda, Charlie Fortaliza, Luis Villena, Rolando Caballera, Donata Lambrento, and Luz Abejo.

They are all facing murder charges for the mass grave discovered by soldiers in Inopacan town, Leyte in 2006. The skeletal remains supposedly belonged to members of the CPP and its armed wing New People's Army who were killed by their colleagues in 1985 on the suspicion that they were playing informants to the military.

Sison, in a Facebook post on Friday, maintained this is a "fake" plot. He said authorities under then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo collected bones from various cemeteries to frame the communist rebels for murder. He reiterated that he and the other suspects were in jail during the time of the supposed killings.

He accused President Rodrigo Duterte of using the case to justify a mass arrest, and to drive public attention away from the controversial release of almost 2,000 heinous crime convicts, whom Duterte ordered to surrender.

"Duterte is apparently trying to carry out his previous threat to make trouble for his opponents and other people who are red-tagged," Sison said in a statement.

Malacañang urged Sison to return to the country to face trial.

"Mr. Sison should unchain himself from his exile and face the music. His illusive if not illusory dream of wresting political [power] from the present dispensation should give way to a principled and courageous stand to face trial," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

"He is welcome to come home to avail of his constitutional right to confront his accusers and prepare for his defense," Panelo added.

Duterte has ordered the arrest of peace consultants since walking away from the on-and-off negotiations in 2017. The government and the communist rebels accused each other of ceasefire violations. The government considers communist rebels as terrorists, but its move to formalize the tag is still pending before a local court.