No bilateral ceasefire, no release of political prisoners — Duterte

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/06 December) – There will be no release of a substantial number of detained communist rebels unless a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, President Rodrigo R. Duterte said.

“Produce to me a signed bilateral ceasefire agreement and I will release them within 48 hours. You can take my word for it,” a press release from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process quoted the president as having instructed government (GRP) peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III and panel member Angela Librado-Trinidad.

But the president vowed to work on the release of a number of elderly and sick political prisoners before Christmas Day.

In an interview last Sunday, Anakpawis Rep.. Ariel Casilao he said some 165 political prisoners, of whom 25 are elderly and 140 are sickly, will be released before Christmas Day.

“The president told us that once he receives even just a facsimile copy of the signed agreement, he will immediately order the release of communist rebels,” Bello said.

Bello and Librado sought instructions from Duterte after he met with NDFP consultants Benito and William Tiamzon here Friday evening where the president reaffirmed his promise to release political prisoners.

The OPAPP press release said about 20 prisoners are eligible for release under the new guidelines of the Presidential Committee on Bail, Recognizance and Parole.

The NDFP claimed that 434 political prisoners are still being held in different detentions all over the country.

Last December 2, the OPAPP announced that Duterte had signed an order granting pardon to four rebels convicted for murder and kidnapping.

They were identified as Martin Villanueva, Bonifacio Suyon, Dindo Absalon and Rico Bodina.

Villanueva and Suyon were convicted for kidnapping while Absalon and Bodino served time for murder,. The NDFP said they have already served at least 18 years.

“These rebels have long been recommended for pardon but the previous government did not sign the draft order to release them,” Bello said.

The third round of formal peace negotiations will resume on the third week of January 2017 in a neutral venue.

Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Jesus Dureza said he has reaffirmed the government’s commitment to “walk the extra mile for peace” and assured that efforts have been undertaken for the release of the political prisoners.

But Dureza, in a statement, explained that necessary legal processes take time as the cases are within the jurisdiction of the judiciary which, he noted, is “an independent and co-equal branch.”

“Earnest efforts have been ongoing on the releases of prisoners…. We understand their angst and impatience but we are all forgetting that these efforts were never possible nor even imaginable in the previous times,” he said.

He said the Duterte administration has made the releases of political prisoners possible.

He added he is appalled by some sectors who criticized the GRP panel for “not delivering enough and for the perceived delay,” although he said they serve as good reminders that they need to do more.

“But putting undue public pressure on the government which has already taken unprecedented steps may not yield their intended results. President Duterte has exercised bold political will to quickly resuscitate the peace process from where it was. And he does so also mindful that there is a need to balance things taking into account the processes that must be observed and the whole citizenry that he must also engage and serve,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)