Political detainees support third round of talks despite continued imprisonment

ROME, Italy—Political prisoners are finding their promised release too slow in coming even as they expressed support for the third round of formal talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Two days before the talks in this ancient city, 33 political prisoners at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig said they are dismayed that GRP President Rodrigo Duterte is backtracking on his promise to release all political prisoners.

“Two round of formal negotiations were concluded in 2016, one political prisoner has already died in jail, we and our respective families have conducted a hunger strike last December, and Christmas and New Year have already passed, but President Duterte’s promises are nothing but press releases,” the detainees said.

The detainees also expressed resentment at how Duterte is treating them like trading cards in his government’s bid to force the NDFP to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

“It seems he wants to force the NDFP and the people into a simplistic ceasefire without first complying with previously-signed agreements such as the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and giving justice to political prisoners,” the detainees said.

Duterte told NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili in a private meeting in Davao City immediately after his election last May he will release all political prisoners through a general amnesty, which he later repeated in several public speeches.

He has since announced he will only sign a general amnesty order for more than 400 political detainees if a signed NDFP-GRP bilateral ceasefire agreement is delivered to him.

“I cannot give you that.  I’m sorry but I have already conceded so much on the side of the government,” Duterte said last December 5.

The GRP Negotiating Panel has also repeatedly committed to work for the immediate release of prisoners but there have been no additional releases from the 19 released in time for the resumption of negotiations last August.

The NDFP for its part said the immediate release of political prisoners is a matter of justice and compliance with signed agreements.

Successful third round

The Bagong Diwa detainees are however hoping for a successful round of formal negotiations in this Italian capital starting tomorrow until the 25th.

“We support the third round of formal talks, especially the negotiations on socio-economic reforms and other substantial issues,” their statement said.

“We expect that genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization are to be discussed to address the root causes of the armed conflict,” they added.

The detainees are also asking on the GRP to stop the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ counter-insurgency operations as well as summary executions raging throughout the country.

“We call on the Filipino people to continue to stand for the advance of our democratic rights and interests for a just and lasting peace,” the detainees said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva/Featured photo by Karapatan)