PH eyes Nov release of old, sickly political prisoners

Carmela Fonbuena
PH eyes Nov release of old, sickly political prisoners
Government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III says the releases are expected within the month and will precede the rescheduled signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement

MANILA, Philippines – Government’s chief negotiator with the communist National Democratic Front (NDF), Silvestre Bello III, said they are working on the release this month of less than 50 old and sickly “political prisoners” on humanitarian grounds. 

He said the additional releases are “part of the confidence-building” for the peace process as the government cannot yet grant amnesty to all 434 prisoners on the NDF list, a process that Bello said will take time because it needs congressional approval. 

“We need time [to release all]. It is not the power of the executive. It needs Congress’ approval,” Bello said on Saturday, November 5.

Bello attended a peace forum in Marikina City to gain public support for the talks that aim to end Asia’s longest running communist insurgency. He was joined by fellow government negotiator Hernani Braganza and NDF panel member Benito Tiamzon and consultants Wilma Tiamzon and Adel Silva. (READ: Marikina leads efforts to promote gov’t talks with communist rebels)

The release on humanitarian grounds will be the 2nd batch of releases under the Duterte administration, following the granting of temporary liberty to 22 NDF consultants led by the Tiamzons so they can participate in the peace process.

The peace talks with the NDF aim to institute social, economic, and political reforms to address widespread poverty in the country that the communist rebels blame on policies that, they said, were imposed by the country’s longest-time ally, the US. 

Next: Joint ceasefire deal

Bello said the releases are expected in the next few weeks, preceding the rescheduled signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement that will set common rules for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the communist New People’s Army (NPA). 

Bello is aiming to sign the joint ceasefire by the “end of November or first week of December” after two panels failed to meet a self-imposed deadline on October 27 or two months after the resumption of talks in August

NDF panel member Benito Tiamzon protested during the forum what he said was a growing list of ceasefire violations on the part of the Philippine military.

He also reiterated the need to release all the prisoners as a necessary incentive for them to agree to a deal that will make the ceasefire more stable. 

The NPA’s declaration about matching the indefinite unilateral ceasefire by the military is unprecedented, considering that the group has been fighting government for nearly 5 decades. There have been no reported clashes since the resumption of formal talks in August. 

Unilateral ceasefires, however, lack common rules that should guide activities of both sides on the ground. Both the military and the NPA have accused each other of abusing the ceasefire. 

Both camps have, however, been avoiding a clash that could adversely affect the talks. –

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