Gov’t urged: Free political prisoners as show of good faith
BACOLOD CITY — Leaders of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Negros expressed support for preliminary negotiations to revive peace talks but called on the government to free political prisoners as a show of good faith.
“The NDF-Negros and its allied organizations express utmost support to the recently released joint statement of the NDFP and the Philippine government that signified renewed endeavors to resume peace talks,” Ka Bayani Obrero, its spokesperson, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The Oslo Joint Statement is a genuinely positive stride to address the roots of the armed conflict. While the peace process still has a long and arduous road ahead, mutual efforts will shed light on issues that adversely affect Negrosanons and the entire Filipino people,” he said, referring to the statement released on Tuesday by the NDFP and the government following talks brokered by the Norwegian government.
In the joint statement, the Philippine government and the NDFP, the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), expressed willingness to resume peace negotiations and to come out with a final agreement to end the 54-year armed conflict, the longest insurgency in Asia.
Obrero urged the government to heed the communists’ longstanding demand to release NDFP peace consultants and political prisoners as part of the peace-building effort.
Of the 778 political prisoners in the country, 139, or 20 percent, of them are on Negros Island, including NDFP consultants Frank Fernandez and his wife, Cleofe Lagtapon, and Ramon Patriarca.
Brunt of conflict
The Philippine Army earlier identified Fernandez, a priest-turned-rebel, as the former secretary of Komiteng Rehiyonal Negros/Cebu/Bohol/Siquijor (KR-NCBS), while Lagtapon and Patriarca were KR-NCBS deputies.
Obrero said that during the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte, Negros revolutionaries bore the brunt of “state terrorism” as well as socioeconomic woes.
“Thus, the masses in Negros demand more than a mere declaration. Sincere actions must be shown by the Marcos regime to show its good faith in achieving genuine peace,” he said.
In Eastern Visayas, government officials welcomed the possibility of resuming peace talks between the national government and the communist group.
Emy Bonifacio, the regional coordinator of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity, said the agency had been calling for the end of the armed struggle waged by the CPP and NDFP through its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).
“As a reconciliatory office, we aim for the unification and end to this armed struggle. Enough with the demands from the NDF. We’re hoping that communist rebels are serious this time around, especially now that they’re losing forces and command in their areas,” she said.
“We will continue providing open spaces for their participation. With amnesty proclamations being issued and with this joint statement, I guess we are ending this five decades of armed struggle and we can move forward to further developing our vulnerable areas,” Bonifacio added.
Brig. Gen. Noel Vestuir, commanding officer of the 802nd Infantry Brigade based in Borongan City, said engaging the families of the rebels could encourage NPA members to return to the fold of the law without engaging them in an armed battle.
“For our part, we will continue our localized peace engagement activities with our FReE families program,” he said, referring to Friends Rescued Engagement through Families, or FReE Families, a program conceptualized by the Eastern Samar government and the local Army to help address the insurgency problem.
The program engages the families of active NPA members by encouraging them to surrender.
Eastern Visayas, notably Samar Island, continues to grapple with the insurgency problem. Northern Samar province is considered the last bastion of the Maoist guerrilla movement in the region.