Negros Church leader to gov’t: Free jailed Reds to bring peace talks back to life
BACOLOD CITY—A ranking Church leader in the province of Negros Occidental called for the release of top rebel leaders, including priest Frank Fernandez, to revive peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the government.
San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alimanaza said Fernandez, 70, could be released on humanitarian grounds during International Human Rights Day, which was Dec. 10.
Fernandez, said Alimanaza, “will do much more for peace outside the state’s prisons.”
“His work as a peace consultant can help to enliven efforts to unearth, understand and address the root causes of the armed conflict,” Alimanaza added.
The Church leader said Fernandez should also be released because he was covered by the Joint Agreement on Immunity and Security Guarantees (Jasig), one of the past agreements by communist rebels and the government which allowed rebel leaders safe passage if involved in peace talks.
Fernandez, tagged by the military as a ranking New People’s Army leader in the Negros-Cebu-Bohol-Siquijor areas, was arrested with his wife, Cleofe, in the town of Nagcarlan, Laguna province last March 24.
At the time of his capture, Fernandez carried an P8 million bounty.
On Panay Island, more than 3,000 protesters, mainly farmers and members of Church groups, joined rallies to mark International Human Rights Day on Tuesday.
At least 2,000 protesters were led by the Movement Against Tyranny and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in a program at Sunburst Park in Iloilo City and a march on the city’s main streets.
The protesters burned an effigy of President Rodrigo Duterte inside a cauldron, an apparent reference to the controversial P50 million cauldron used for the SEA Games torch.
Rally speakers denounced mass arrests of activists and their leaders in Negros Occidental and the practice of Red-tagging, or branding as communists, of lawyers and leaders of groups helping farmers, students, urban poor and women.
Vivian Asong, chair of the urban poor group Kaisog, decried threats and intimidation against leaders of her organization by suspected military intelligence operatives.
“It is not a crime to organize and stand for our rights,” she said at the protest rally.
Elmer Forro, secretary general of Bayan-Panay, said that even without a formal declaration of martial law in areas outside Mindanao, political dissenters and government critics are being “intimidated, arrested on trumped-up charges and killed.”
In Roxas City in Capiz, around 1,000 protesters led by Bayan and the farmers group Kammaca also held a rally at the Roxas City Bandstand.
Some 300 people joined similar protests in the capital town of Kalibo in Aklan and at least 150 joined rallies in San Jose town, Antique province.
In Bohol, cause-oriented groups marched from Plaza Rizal to B. Inting Street near the Tagbilaran City Square to commemorate International Human Rights Day past 9 a.m. on Tuesday.
The groups slammed continued extrajudicial killings in the government’s campaign against drugs.
They also called for an end to other forms of human rights attacks.
Danilo Olayvar, secretary general of the group Humabol, said even the defenders of human rights are being targeted for assassinations.
Alminaza said churches in the Diocese of San Carlos would continue ringing bells each evening to call for an end to killings and for the root causes of armed conflict to be addressed.
“We ring the bells each evening in Negros, as a reminder that life is sacred,” said Alimanaza.
“We wish to shake the conscience of those carrying out dastardly death operations, commanded from above,” he said.
“Addressing the roots of the armed conflict through peace negotiations is leaps and bounds better than continuing brutal and blatant killings,” the bishop added.
“We encourage both parties to return to peace negotiations and deliver meaningful change – including socio-economic reforms – urgently needed by our people,“ he added.
Alminaza said rebels and the government were also being encouraged to respect previous agreements, including the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, which the bishop said would go a long way in ending massive human rights violations.
Edited by TSB
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