Duterte vows release of 165 political prisoners before Christmas day

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 04 December) —  President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to work on the release of some 165 political prisoners before Christmas Day.

Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao said on Sunday that the President made this commitment to Fidel Agcaoili, chair of the peace panel of the National Democratic Front (NDF) and consultants Benito and Wilma Tiamzon during a dinner meeting at the Legaspi Suites here on December 2.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte meets with National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panel chair Fidel Agcaoili and wife Chit, the Tiamzon couple Benito and Wilma for dinner at Bondi and Bourke Restaurant at Legaspi Suites, Davao City on December 2,2016. TOTO LOZANO/Presidential Photo
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte meets with National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panel chair Fidel Agcaoili and wife Chit, the Tiamzon couple Benito and Wilma for dinner at Bondi and Bourke Restaurant at Legaspi Suites, Davao City on December 2,2016. TOTO LOZANO/Presidential Photo

Casilao said that of the 165 political detainees who are the priority for release, 25 are elderly and 140 are sickly.

The NDF said they have 434 members in various detention centers throughout the country.

According to Casilao, the NDF panel also raised with the President their concerns on the alleged ceasefire violations committed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

He posted some after-meeting photos with Duterte, Secretary Christopher Go, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Casilao, and the NDF officials on his Facebook wall.

The meeting took place from 7:30 p.m. until 11 p.m., he said.

Casilao did not provide other details on what Duterte and the NDF panel members discussed  but said a statement on “what transpired during the meeting” would be issued.

Duterte last week issued an order granting  pardon to four communist rebels convicted for  murder and kidnapping.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) identified the pardoned prisoners as Martin Villanueva, Bonifacio Suyon, Dindo Absalon and Rico Bodina, all of them farmers.

“These rebels have long been recommended for pardon but the previous government did not sign the draft order to release them,” government peace panel chair  Silvestre ‘Bebot’ Bello III, said.

In a statement issued November 27, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) blasted Bello for “baselessly” claiming that a bilateral ceasefire agreement may be signed on December 10.

The statement maintained that a bilateral agreement is “most likely not to be forged before or around December 10, pending the release of all political prisoners.”

“The longer the GRP takes to fulfill its obligation to release all political prisoners, the prospects of such an agreement ever being forged become ever dimmer,” the CPP statement read.

At the Nov. 28 launching of the Mindanao Women’s Peace Table here, government peace panel member Angela Librado-Trinidad said they were working on the release of another batch before the yearend, most especially those who are in the priority list based on humanitarian consideration such as sickly, senior citizens, and women.

“We are working on the release and we understand that the release of the prisoners is an issue of urgency but there are things that we need to work out. We have to make sure that the releases would not be subject to any question – legally and judicially. We are trying our best although probably the best might not be enough at this point in time. We are exerting all our efforts to make the release happen,” the lawyer-panel member said.

Trinidad said the government peace panel is finalizing its own draft of the ceasefire agreement.

She said they are defining, among others, what would constitute “hostile acts.”

“You have to make sure that these definitions will reflect the interest of all those who would be affected directly and indirectly, so we have to be consulting (them) and other than that, if we have come out with the definition, you also have to consult the other party whether this is acceptable or not, so this is not just an issue of defining it. It’s actually coming up with an agreement with respect to the more substantial issues,” she said.

She emphasized the need to sign a common ceasefire document with the NDF because “as long long as the parties are not bound by an agreement, individual parties could accuse each other of violations and this could not be resolved because there is no agreement yet.”  (Antonio L. Colina IV  / MindaNews)

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