President pardons 4 communist rebels convicted for murder  and kidnapping

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/02 December) — President Rodrigo Duterte has signed an order granting pardon to four communist rebels convicted for murder and kidnapping, a press release issued by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said.

“These rebels have long been recommended for pardon but the previous government did not sign the draft order to release them,” said government peace panel chair and concurrent Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, chair of the government panel negotiating peace with the National Democratic Front (NDF).

The pardoned rebels – farmers Martin Villanueva of Calauag, Quezon;  Bonifacio Suyom of La Paz, Leyte; Dindo Absalon of Kananga, Leyte, nd Rico Bodino of Malinao, Albay —  have served at least 18 years and up to 26 years in prison.

“We are giving them the justice they deserve regardless of their guilt or innocence.  They deserve to be freed,” the OPAPP quoted Bello, a former Justice Secretary, as saying.

Villanueva and Suyom were convicted for kidnapping, Absalon and Bodino for murder.

Three more suspected communist rebels serving time but awaiting final entry of judgment are also due for release pending legal requirements from the courts, Bello said.

The names of 200 detained rebels have also been submitted for review and approval by appropriate government agencies “but we have recommended the immediate release of 21 sickly detainees, three other elderly suspected rebels and one woman detainee,” he said.

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

One of the detainees, the 66-year old Bernabe Ocasla passed away Monday afternoon.

“The Duterte administration is accountable for the death of Ocasla, who should have been released along with more than a hundred ailing political detainees as soon as it assumed office. This is the tragic result of the government’s deliberate delays and excuses in the release of political prisoners,” said Fr. Dionito Cabillas, spokesperson of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) said.

Ocasla had been languishing for seven years at the Manila City Jail on trumped-up charges of 15 counts of multiple murder.  He is one of the co-accused of NDFP peace consultants Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, Randall Echanis, Rafael Baylosis, Vicente Ladlad, and Adelberto Silva on alleged trumped up charges of multiple murder cases filed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines pending before Manila

New guidelines

Bellos said former President Benigno Aquino sat on the recommendation of the Presidential Committee on Bail, Recognizance and Pardon (PCBREP) to release Villanueva and company.

Bello said the three suspected communist rebels serving time but awaiting final entry of judgment “cannot avail themselves of a presidential pardon or executive clemency while their appeals are pending and awaiting final entry of judgment.”

He explained that the releases take time because the old guidelines of the PCBREP had to be amended.

The old PCBREP guidelines only allowed releases on bail, recognizance or pardon for offenses committed on or before 1998.

Under the new guidelines, all offenses committed as of July 1, 2016 are now covered by the PCBREP guidelines.

Bello said the release of the four pardoned detainees is part of the continuing commitment of President Duterte to free detained communist rebels. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)