DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/27 December) – Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Monday said he does not doubt that President Duterte would fulfill his promise to release all political prisoners as part of the peace negotiation with the National Democratic Front.
Bello, also the chair of the government peace panel in talks with the NDF, issued the statement in Paquibato District here where he attended the 48th founding anniversary celebration of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
“President Duterte has given word that he will release all political prisoners, and I don’t doubt his word,” he said in Filipino.
He added the GRP panel was working on the release of 17 to 20 political detainees before the year ends.
Around 50 to 70 detainees were earlier promised to be released in time for the International Human Rights Day last December 10.
Bello explained the release has been delayed by the need to follow judicial processes.
He said it would have been easier if the political prisoners were already convicted by final judgment because the President can just pardon them.
“Meron iba kasi may (The others have) pending case against them, so the cases are pending in court. So it will be the court who will decide if they will be given temporary liberty,” he said.
“Ang pangako ng president na palalayain nya lahat pero dadaan sa (The President promised to free all but they have to go through a) legal process. And besides, may sinabi si Presidente na (the President said) he is willing to declare a general amnesty subject to the approval of the Congress. I think this will be an act of the President after a final peace agreement has been signed,” he said.
Last December 6, a statement from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process quoted Duterte as saying there will be no substantial release of political prisoners unless the two parties signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
“Produce to me a signed bilateral ceasefire agreement and I will release them within 48 hours. You can take my word for it,” Duterte said.
The President said he would lose all his cards if he releases all political prisoners while still in the thick of negotiations.
But this did not sit well with the communists who said Duterte likened the release to a card game to force the NDFP to enter into a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
Connie Ledesma, a member of the NDF peace panel, alleged that government troops continued to violate the unilateral ceasefire declaration issued in August by Duterte.
She said there has been a clamor within the CPP to lift its unilateral ceasefire declaration.
But Bello said that they have not received reports of the alleged violations.
He said complaints should be addressed to the GRP peace panel, Commission on Human Rights and Department of Justice.
The GRP and NDFP panels will resume the third round of peace negotiations in Rome, Italy on January 18 to 25 to flesh out the Comprehensive Agreement on Socioeconomic Reforms (CASER).
The CASER, described as the “heart and soul” of the peace negotiations, contains the most contentious issues such as agrarian reform, national industrialization, and foreign policy. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)