13 consultants free; 6 others remain in detention as talks fast approaches

THIRTEEN National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultants have been released while six others are still in detention as the resumption of the formal peace talks fast approaches.

Since August 15, Ma. Concepcion Araneta-Bocala; Ariel Arbitrario; Renante Gamara; Alan Jazmines; Alfredo Mapano; Tirso Alcantara; Kennedy Bangibang; Eddie Genelsa; Ruben Saluta; and Adelberto Silva have been released on bail by trial courts throughout the country where they faced criminal charges.

Couple Alex and Winona Birondo were released on humanitarian grounds while Jaime Soledad was cleared of his alleged crimes by the Ormoc City regional trial court.

However, Loida Magpatoc, Perforio Tuna, Renato Baleros, Pedro Codaste, and Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, have yet to be released from various detention centers.

All 19 are covered by Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, the NDFP said.

Still detained

In a press conference at St. Andrew’s Church in Quezon City last night, Public Interest Law Center’s Rachel Pastores said Philippine National Police’s Camp Crame Custodial Center warden Arnel Apud is delaying the release of the Tiamzons.

Apud is unreasonably demanding a hard copy of a court order from the Laoang Regional Trial Court despite assurances by the clerk of court that the Tiamzons have indeed been ordered released, Pastores said.

The NDFP legal adviser said that it is important that the consultants still in detention must be released in order for their passports, visas and plane tickets to be processed in time for their flight to Oslo tomorrow, August 20.

“We still haven’t stopped following-up and getting to the bottom of what’s causing delays in the release of the remaining consultants so they can fly to Oslo, Norway and participate in the formal talks,” she said.

Human rights group Karapatan also called for the release of other political prisoners outside of the peace process.

“We call on the Duterte administration to withdraw all the trumped up charges against all political prisoners to facilitate the release of more than 500 political prisoners as an affirmation of previously signed documents by both parties,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Hopeful consultants

At the press conference, the former detainees told hundreds of supporters they look at the upcoming peace talks with optimism.

Tirso Alcantara thanked the people and organizations that supported the political prisoners and fought for their release.

“The most important thing is that both parties are serious about the peace talks,” Alcantara said.

Adelberto Silva, who was released earlier yesterday, commended the Rodrigo Duterte government for working on the freedom of the NDFP consultants.

“It is an important development that the Duterte government realizes that war is not an effective solution in addressing the root causes of the conflict,” Silva said.

Bishops for peace

The Episcopal Church in the Philippines also lauded the government’s move to release NDFP consultants and hoped that the peace process would end the war between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF.

“I am elated that that the cause of the poor and the oppressed, which is the core of the Gospel, is an important and crucial part of the framework of the peace talks” the Episcopal Church in the Philippines’ Prime Bishop Renato Abibico in a pastoral statement said.

“Precisely, it is the grinding poverty and the sufferings it caused to our people that has fuelled this social discord,” Abibico said.

“We must watch for saboteurs who may try to thwart our journey towards genuine social reforms and lasting peace,” he added.

Roman Catholic Bishop and Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum convenor Deogracia Iniguez for his part wished the formal peace negotiations in Oslo success in forging a “just and lasting peace” for the Filipino people. # (By Abril Layad B. Ayroso)