IT TOOK some 40 years for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to find and take into custody Ka Frank Fernandez who left his priestly ministry at the height of the anti-Marcos regime revolt in the 1970s. He embraced the communist ideology which is in direct contradiction to his vows as a Catholic priest and the doctrines of his Church. He remains a priest however, because of his ordination that leaves an indelible mark on him. Perhaps he lost his faith but the mark of the priesthood is never lost.

The commander of the Negros based, 303rd Philippine Army Brigade, BGen. Benedict Arevalo, credited Mayor Magdaleno “Magsie” Peña of Moises Padilla in a press conference last March 26, for the arrest of Ka Frank, National Democratic Front spokesperson and once the top man in the communist hierarchy in Negros.

According to Arevalo, Peña “contributed resources to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, which resulted in the arrest of Fernandez and his wife Cleofe Lagtapon.” Taken with Fernandez and Lagtapon were contents of their mobile phones and laptops. The information is of great intelligence value to the government. Indeed, this list could include people supportive of the insurgency, their victims of extortion, their contacts and hideouts and local government officials who are “friendly” with the communist.

Most important are the possible “drug personalities.” I remember Ka Frank sending media the names of people in the illegal drugs trade and even their sources and routes of distribution.

Mayor Peña was shown on a video conversing with Ka Frank for 30 minutes but little is reported what they talked about. What I learned is that the mayor had forgiven Fernandez for the ambush on his life in 2007 that killed two of the mayor’s companions.

According to the mayor, they found Fernandez and Lagtapon living in a miserable condition in a shack in the town of Liliw in Laguna. The rebel leader was sick so that he was taken to a hospital instead of a cell and given immediate medical attention. A news photo with Fernandez on a wheelchair smiling and chatting with Peña projected the image of amiability. The 71-year-old rebel was given the facilities for a dialysis.  

This seems to be uncharacteristic of Peña as media and the public perceived him. Are we seeing a different Magsie, or the real Magsie misunderstood by the public? His role in this operation is unmatched and the army was quick to acknowledge that he was instrumental in this historic event. Regardless of one’s attitude towards him, the mayor’s direct participation or even leadership in this operation cannot be denied.

According to the military, there was an informant that led them to Fernandez. We can assume that the mayor played a vital role in tracking down the rebel leader. That means resources – money and facilities – that the army or the police could not provide.

Although the authorities do not say so, I think the mayor financed the operation. He is known, after all, of pursuing a passion. He has the determination and the money to do what the government could not, restrained as they were by legal procedures. Fernandez was reported surprised by his arrest and I think it is because private operatives conducted the surveillance, tracked him down when he left Negros last October and located him.
Peña said “Fernandez was even astounded that he was arrested in just two months, while the AFP and PNP spent years trying to track down the rebel leader”.
Peña said that during that meeting with Fernandez, he urged the rebel leader to tell his followers in Negros to stop their killings. The mayor also noted that some members of the AFP and PNP were eager to kill Fernandez in retribution for his part in killing their fellow soldiers and police officers in Negros, but he urged them to keep Fernandez alive and face justice.

As I was writing this piece, the radio was reporting that scores of NPA men had raided Peña’s town and killed his councilor. Then they had a running battle with the Army in Barangay Quintin Remo, disrupting even a graduation ceremony.

Was that the NPA response to Peña’s suggestion for them to end the killings? It seems that Negros is facing a new NPA leadership.