PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is set to release about 130 political prisoners after meeting with National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) officials in Davao Friday night.
The political prisoners are expected to be released “before the next round of talks in January,” it was learned.
Sources disclosed that Duterte spoke with Fidel Agcaoili, the NDFP peace panel chair; panel member Benito Tiamzon; panel consultant Wilma Tiamzon; and Carlos Isagani Zarate, vice chairman of the special committee on peace, reconciliation and unity at the House of Representatives.
“They discussed and clarified issues on how the peace talks can move forward (such as the) continuing process for the release of political prisoners as soon as possible, especially for the elderly and the sick,” the source said.
The Marcos burial, the war on drugs and threats of terrorism by extremist groups in Mindanao were also tackled in the “generally cordial meeting” between Duterte and the Reds, reports said.
Earlier, Duterte revealed that he was meeting with the Tiamzon couple .
“I’ll be talking to the Tiamzon couple. Iyan talaga ang pinakamatigas diyan sa Communist Party. It’s not (Jose) Maria Sison,” Duterte said in a speech in Davao City, referring to the exiled founder of the CPP.
“Iyan ang mahirapan kami. So I invited them.”
The Tiamzons were among the communist leaders earlier released by the courts in order to participate in the peace talks with the government.
The meeting comes amid the challenges being faced by the government and the leftist movement over the release of 432 political prisoners.
In a statement on Friday, the CPP is waiting for the Duterte government to issue an amnesty proclamation for 432 political prisoners, as stated in the August 26 Oslo joint statement between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, CPP’s political arm.
The CPP issued an ultimatum to the government to comply with what the two parties agreed upon. It said failure to comply may result in the collapse of the unilateral ceasefire and close the door on a bilateral ceasefire.
The CPP rejected the government’s plan to release 50 political prisoners by the end of December, saying the release of 432 prisoners is the only acceptable path.
The intensifying calls by various militant groups were made in the wake of the death of political prisoner Bernabe Ocasla, a peasant leader who was being considered for release on humanitarian grounds.
Four political prisoners convicted of murder and kidnapping were previously pardoned by the President.
Chief peace negotiator Silvestre Bello III said the government is now working for the release of about 200 detained rebels even as he asked for more patience from leftist groups over the release of political detainees.
Duterte remains committed to its promise of freeing all 400 political prisoners with the first 100 to be released before the third round of peace talks in January, Bello said yesterday.
Bello issued the clarification following an ongoing hunger strike seeking to demand the immediate release of the political prisoners and fears that the government will not keep its word.
“Yes, that is the commitment of our President and our President will keep his word,” Bello said
Last Friday, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) warned the government that it may resume its armed resistance if the government fails to release all 432 political prisoners, as stated in the August 26 Oslo joint statement between the government and the CPP’s arm, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
NDFP legal consultant Atty. Edre Olalia expressed concerns over the varying number of political prisoners that the government promised to release.
Olalia said the government initially promised to grant general amnesty to 400 prisoners but numbers kept dwindling down with current figures posted at about 20.
Bello explained that the releases may take some time since the political prisoners need to undergo judicial process given that most of them are not yet qualified for pardon.
“We gave them an assurance that everything is moving in close coordination with their lawyers so pretty soon magpapa-release po tayo,” Bello said.
Political prisoners may be released on bail, petition for recognizance, and petition for investigation so that warrants of arrest could be lifted, according to Bello.
Olalia, however, clarified that the release of political prisoners is not a pre-condition for the peace talks but is simply a fulfillment of the government’s promise.
“It is a confidence-building measure and it is a matter of justice,” he said.
“This is not only a call for justice. This is not only a call for release but it is also a call for protest, because every second that they remain in jail is a second of injustice.”
Over 150 prisoners in 10 detention centers across the country are currently on hunger strike to attract attention to their call for freedom, Olalia said.