NDF presses general amnesty grant to 432 political prisoners

MANILA, Philipines – The National Democratic Front (NDF) has pressed for the immediate release of 432 "political prisoners," reminding government negotiators that it was President Rodrigo Duterte himself who thought of a general amnesty grant to expedite the process. (READ: PH, NDF back in Oslo to tackle 'root cause of conflict')

The NDF, the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, made the call as it slammed recent government statements that the general amnesty will depend on the progress of the talks. It said such pronouncement is tantamount to holding political prisoners "hostage to secure advantage across the negotiating table."

"The NDFP stands firm in calling for the release through amnesty of the 432 political prisoners not only as a matter of justice but also in basic compliance of the CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law)," newly-appointed NDF panel chairman Fidel Agcaoili said at the opening ceremony of the 2nd round of peace talks in Oslo, Norway.

"The release of all political prisoners through amnesty was offered by President Duterte during my first meeting with him on 16 May 2016 in connection with the resumption of the peace negotiations," Agcaoili added on Thursday, October 6 (Friday, October 7 in Manila).

A general amnesty was among the commitments signed during the first round of talks in August.

"The proffered amnesty proclamation pertains to the political prisoners and not to a general amnesty that is mutually extended to the forces of both Parties in the final settlement of an armed conflict," Agcaoili said. 

The last time the government granted general amnesty was after the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship. Previous amnesty proclamations for prisoners after that covered military rebels and Muslim guerillas, as well as communist rebels who wish to avail of the government social integration program.

But a general amnesty proclamation will not be Duterte's decision alone, as it will require Congress approval.

CPP founder Jose Maria Sison said the release of the prisoners will "serve as very big incentive for a stable kind of ceasefire."

The military and the New People's Army declared separate unilateral ceasefires, meaning there are not rules of procedures on the ground to avoid possible misencounters. A bilateral ceasefire agreement to establish such rules is among the agenda in Oslo. 

The government wants to complete negotiatins within a year, or by August 2017, which government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III stressed in his opening speech.

"Let us also recognize the need to complete the negotiations in the next 12 months. This will provide ample time for the Duterte administration to efficiently implement the agreements we reached," he said. 

The NDF reshuffled its panel on the eve of the second round of talks in Oslo, Norway to begin negotiatons on socio-economic reforms, the most contentious issue in the peace process.

Agcaoili replaced longtime NDF panel chairman Luis Jalandoni who will now serve as senior adviser to the NDF panel. Alleged New People's Army (NPA) leader Benito Tiamzon also joined the NDF panel. – Rappler.com