Duterte to free political prisoners ahead of amnesty law—Bello
DAVAO CITY – Incoming President Rodrigo Duterte is bent on releasing several political prisoners even before he signs a general amnesty, according to a member of his incoming Cabinet who is involved in the expected resumption of peace talks with the National Democratic Front, the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.
Silvestre Bello III, incoming Labor Secretary and peace panel chair in the upcoming peace negotiations, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Tuesday that Duterte wished to grant freedom to several political prisoners upon his assumption to power.
Duterte will officially become the 16th President at noontime of June 30.
“We seek the release political prisoners who are reportedly covered by JASIG (Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees). Those who are elderly and sick will also be released on humanitarian considerations,” Bello said.
He did not name who would be included in the initial batch of political prisoners to be released.
Human rights group Karapatan earlier said 18 NDF consultants were among at least 543 political prisoners detained all over the country.
Karapatan said of the total number of political prisoners, 88 were ill while 48 others were already in their senior years.
The JASIG was signed by the Philippine government and NDF peace panels in 1995 to ensure the safety of individuals from both sides to freely participate in the peace process.
Alleged violations of JASIG, including the arrests of the NDF consultants, were among the major reasons the talks collapsed during the Aquino administration.
Bello said that the initial release would be done without preconditions and Duterte would do it as a gesture of confidence in the sincerity of the NDF in the peace process.
“We are doing it before the proposed the amnesty. This will be a gesture of goodwill,” Bello said.
In the recently concluded preliminary talks between the incoming government and the NDF, which were held in Oslo, both parties agreed that the government panel would recommend to Duterte the immediate release of all NDF consultants and other JASIG-protected individuals so that they can participate in the resumption of the peace negotiations.
The stalled talks will formally resume in the third week of July, according to a joint statement the negotiators released after the Oslo meeting.
Duterte’s peace negotiators and the NDF also agreed to discuss five agenda items in the formal talks, including the affirmation of previously signed agreements, like the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
The second item discussed was the “accelerated process for negotiations, including the timeline for the completion of the remaining substantive agenda for the talks: socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces.”
The third agenda was the reconstitution of the JASIG list while the fourth agenda was the amnesty proclamation for the release of all political prisoners, subject to concurrence of Congress.
The fifth agenda evolved around the mode of the interim ceasefire, which would include mechanisms and coverage of the agreement. SFM/rga
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