DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Authorities did not release any elderly or sickly political prisoner during the Christmas holidays, contrary to an earlier pronouncement made by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte and later statements made by his peace panel officials.
Back in December 5, during the lighting ceremony of the Christmas tree in Malacañang, Pres. Duterte said: “How many are there still beyond 70 years old and those suffering from incurable diseases at this time, may cancer or kidney or anything… if they are ready to be released and will be accepted by the families, i-release ko na before Christmas time.”
“There’s really no point in detaining a person na matanda na tapos may sakit. I find it something not… It’s a very awkward feeling, uncomfortable ako. So ‘yung lahat ng matatanda, may sakit, umalis na kayo,” he said.
The National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace panel asked for the release of 130 ailing and elderly prisoners.
The delay is due to the judicial processes that even the President cannot control, said government panel chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III in a telephone interview on Monday, Jan. 2.
Bello previously said the panel is hopeful that around 17 to 20 political prisoners will be released before the year ends.
“Hopefully, around 17 to 20,” he said when asked whether there will still be releases of political detainees even after Christmas during his attendance to the CPP’s 48thanniversary celebration held in Paquibato district here.
Prior to that, the Bello said some 50 to 70 political prisoners will probably be released on humanitarian grounds before Dec. 10, last year.
As of Dec. 13, the government panel said there are 21 political prisoners who already have clearances, 18 of whom are eligible for pardon.
GRP panel member Atty. Angela Librado-Trinidad said there are 200 political prisoners who are on the process of clearing pending cases from different offices.
Promise to free
Bello added that the promise of the president is to free all political prisoners, but the date remains unsure.
“Ang pangako ng president ay palalayain lahat, pero when ay hindi pa natin masisiguro. Dahil sabi ko nga ay dadaan sa legal process. And besides sabi ko nga may sinabi si Presidente that he is willing and he is ready to declare a general amnesty subject to the concurrence of Congress. I think this will be enact by the President after a final peace agreement has been arrived,” he said during the interview on Dec. 26 in Paquibato district.
NDFP Senior Adviser Luis Jalandoni described it as “condemnable” and do not sit well for hundreds of political prisoners and their families.
“Condemnable ho yung mga salita na nagpa-promise pagkatapos wala namang action, hindi naman totoo, kaya masama ito para sa mga political prisoners na umaasa na ma-release sila sana for Christmas, sana for New Year at tsaka para sa kanilang pamilya din (The promises without any action is condemnable. This is bad for the political prisoners who are hoping to be released during Christmas or New Year),” he told Davao Today in a telephone interview on Monday.
He said it is the right of the prisoners to be released.
“They are unjustly detained so they should be released. And the demand of the NDFP is to release the more than 400 political prisoners through a general amnesty declaration by President Duterte,” he said.
Jalandoni said it is the responsibility of the President and cited Duterte’s statement during his meeting with the NDF leaders in May 2016 that he would give amnesty to the prisoners.
“Ang sabi niya kay Ka Fidel Agcaoili eh dapat ma-release lahat yan through general amnesty proclamation. Meaning yun ay parang ma-advance, para ma-push forward yung peace talks,” Jalandoni said.
Jalandoni said the release of the prisoners would give a push to the peace talks.
He said the release of the prisoners is in compliance with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, the first substantive agenda signed between the government and the NDFP and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees.
Rome talks to push through
Asked on what will be the effect of the non-release of the political prisoners on the scheduled talks on January 18 to 25 this year, Jalandoni said it will not postpone the talks, but will “delay in achieving a lasting peace based on justice.”
“Magkakaroon ho ng talks pero maaantala,sayang lang ang panahon at sayang yung posibilidad na mai-advance yung talks,” he said.
He said the release of the prisoners could also help in the peace talks and in achieving a just and lasting peace in the country.
The third round of talks in Rome, Italy will tackle the more substantial issue on social and economic reforms which is described as the “meat” and the “heart and soul” of the peace process. (davaotoday.com)