PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is mistaken to think that the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) would be swayed into signing a bilateral ceasefire with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, NDFP Negotiating Panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili said.
Reacting to Duterte’s threat that he will not release political prisoners without a signed bilateral ceasefire agreement, Agcaoili said the NDFP cannot be forced by ultimatums by the GRP President.
“The NDFP cannot be swayed by threats or ultimatums from its principled stand that all political prisoners should be released as a matter of justice and in compliance with signed agreements such JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees) and CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law),” Agcaoili said.
Agcaoili recalled it was then newly-elected President Duterte who volunteered to him in a face-to-face meeting in Davao City last May 16, 2016 that he would grant a general amnesty to all political prisoners.
In an interview last May, Agcaoili said Duterte wanted to hasten the release of the political prisoners, hence his offer to affect the releases through a general amnesty.
The NDFP says Duterte’s promise remain unfulfilled today.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said Duterte has instructed GRP Negotiating Panel chairperson Silvestre Bello III and member Angela Trinidad to produce a signed bilateral ceasefire agreement with the NDFP before ordering the release of a “substantial” number of political prisoners.
“Produce to me a signed bilateral ceasefire agreement and I will release them within 48 hours. You can take my word for it,” Bello quoted the president as saying.
“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.
Instead of about 80 elderly or sick political prisoners, the OPAPP said that the GRP is only working on the release of 25 detainees.
The OPAPP also said that the GRP panel has submitted to Duterte a list of 200 prisoners eligible for release under the new guidelines of the Presidential Committee on Bail, Recognizance and Parole (PCBREP).
The NDFP earlier said there are 434 political prisoners across the country that should be released under Duterte’s promise of general amnesty before the resumption of formal negotiations.
Only 19 NDFP consultants have been released so far while four convicted detainees were already given presidential pardon as announced by Bello last week. A few others have also been released but only after having been deemed innocent by the judiciary or having served their respective jail terms.
The NDFP said there is only one reason why there has been no further release of political prisoners through the peace process.
“Political prisoners have been held hostage to pressure the NDFP into agreeing to a haphazardly drawn-up peace agreement that would redound to the revolutionary movement’s capitulation instead of addressing the roots of the armed conflict,” the NDFP said.
The NDFP said Duterte can release all the political prisoners if he wishes as was the case with the 19 NDFP consultants.
“It is a fact that once the President or other mandated or delegated authority so decides, a political prisoner can be released in a matter of days…The GRP peace panel members cannot feign ignorance about this either, since most of them are lawyers,” the NDFP said.
“It is the NDFP that should be appalled at the utter bankruptcy of the GRP’s negotiating tactics which have already led to the death of Bernabe Ocasla, an elderly and ailing political prisoner whose long wait for justice ended tragically,” the group added. (Raymund B. Villanueva)