No contradiction in safe conduct pass for NDFP consultants–Bello

MANILA—The government’s chief negotiator does not see contradictions between earlier announced plans to release National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultants and President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent statement that he will only issue them safe conduct passes.

In his speech at the Philippine Air Force anniversary celebrations last July 5, Duterte said he “…is not ready to release everybody” but will only issue safe conduct passes for NDFP consultants Jose Maria Sison, Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Austria and NDFP panel chairperson Luis Jalandoni.

In May, NDFP spokesperson and peace panel member Fidel Agcaoili announced that Duterte told him he plans on issuing a general amnesty order for all political prisoners, numbering more than 500.

Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) chief negotiator and Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the President is indeed set to issue safe conduct passes to Joint Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) holders.

“With respect to the release of Mr (Benito) Tiamzon and his wife (Wilma Austria) and maybe some other members of their (NDFP) negotiating panel, they are covered by JASIG.  That is why our President (Duterte) said they will be released temporarily through the issuance of safe conduct passes,” Bello in an interview said.

“The purpose is for them to be able to participate in the peace negotiations,” Bello said.

The safe conduct passes are for the consultants to have unhindered travel throughout the country for consultations with NDFP members and forces, Bello added.

While the consultants should technically be brought back to detention in between formal negotiations, Bello said it would be impractical, especially when the negotiations would be continuous.

“It may even be a very serious security problem when every time they negotiate, they go out and then they come back,” Bello said.

“Anyway, we intend to terminate the negotiations within six to nine months,” he added.

Duterte said that the release of all political prisoners will happen after the peace negotiations are successfully concluded.

All political prisoners

The emissaries of then President-elect Duterte that included Bello, Jesus Dureza and Hernani Braganza and the NDFP in their June 16 Oslo Joint Statement said they will discuss the Amnesty Proclamation for all detained political prisoners, subject to concurrence by the Philippine Congress.

In his July 5 speech, Duterte said he is not ready to release all political prisoners and will only grant amnesty after the success of the talks and the New People’s Army has laid down their arms.

Sison for his part said Duterte did not find it necessary to explain the release political prisoners by general amnesty in connection with the interim ceasefire agreement.

“Quite a number of people who do not seriously study the substantive agenda of the GPH-NDFP gloss over the fact that the last item is the making of a Comprehensive Agreement on the End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces,” Sison said.

“This agreement will involve amnesty of the leaders, commanders and combatants of both conflicting parties. The interim ceasefire is a preparation for the final ceasefire at the end of the entire peace negotiations,” he added.

Earlier date preferable

Bello said the GRP peace panel hopes for an earlier date for the resumption of formal talks with the NDFP, preferably July 27 to August 1.

“I understand they (NDFP) are making a counter proposal.  We can perhaps consider August 15, although we prefer an earlier date,” Bello said.

See GPH, NDFP mull rescheduling talks

Sison said the NDFP is willing to give the GRP ample time to effect the releases of political prisoners before the formal resumption of the peace negotiations in Oslo, Norway. (By Raymund B. Villanueva)