Ceasefire first before release of prisoners, Bello cites Duterte
DAVAO CITY – No bilateral ceasefire, no releases of political prisoners.
This was the directive of President Duterte to government negotiator and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III after a meeting in Malacañang on Monday.
“Produce to me a signed bilateral ceasefire agreement and I will release them within 48 hours.
You can take my word for it,” Bello, in a statement, quoted the President as telling him.
After the resumption of the formal negotiations in August this year, both the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) agreed to produce and sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement to replace the unilateral ceasefire declarations.
But the parties failed to meet the October 26 deadline following unresolved issues on the mechanisms and the absence of releases of political prisoners.
Nineteen consultants of the NDF were released before August for them to join the formal negotiations.
Despite the directive, Mr. Duterte promised to release elderly and sickly political prisoners on humanitarian considerations before Christmas, Bello said.
“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.
The NDF earlier said the releases must not be looked at as just a humanitarian move but a compliance to the implementation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
During his meeting with the NDF, including peace panel chair Fidel Agcaoili, Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Tiamzon in Davao City last Friday, President Duterte said he would pursue his promise to release political prisoners.
While the NDF said that there were 434 political prisoners in the country, the government claimed that there were only 200 who are eligible for release under the new guidelines of the Presidential Committee on Bail, Recognizance and Parole.
Four were given presidential pardon last week. CBB/rga
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