MANILA, Philippines – Labor Secretary and peace panel Chairperson Silvestre Bello III said they were surprised by the withdrawal of the New People’s Army from the ceasefire but stressed the February talks will continue.
“It’s an unplesant surprise,” Bello told reporters on Wednesday, February 1. He noted that their scheduled talks from February 22 to 25 aims to “upgrade the existing unilateral ceasefire to that of a bilateral ceasefire.”
The NPA on Wednesday announced it was ending the ceasefire due to alleged abuses of the military and the delayed release of political prisoners. The termination will take effect on February 10. (READ: Soldiers, NPA break ceasefire in Cotabato clash)
But Bello said this major development should prompt them to pursue the signing of a bilateral agreement to enable them to set parameters.
“It’s unclear if there is any violation, if there’s no bilateral agreement… You can’t cite violations because there is no definition, no referee,” he said in Filipino.
The peace panel will recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte that government maintain the unilateral ceasefire.
On the issue of the delayed release of political prisoners, Bello explained that the process of release is already in motion. But this is out of their hands since they are under court jurisdiction.
In this case, he said, those convicted detainees may be given presidential pardon, or those with pending cases may appeal to be allowed to post bail. He also said the process of release is already in motion. (READ: Political prisoners will be released ‘in due time’ – Bello)
“We made it very clear to them that the release of the political prisoners is a commitment of the President,” he said.
Left-leaning human rights group Karapatan had earlier demanded the immediate release of the 392 political prisoners. The Communist Party of the Philippines has urged the government to release the detainees through an amnesty proclamation. – Rappler.com
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