SOME 21 jailed communist leaders, all of them facing criminal charges for murder and other violent crimes, are likely to be released and get safe conduct passes as consultants in peace talks between the Duterte administration and the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF), a member of the incoming government peace panel said Sunday.
A list obtained by The Standard shows that the 21 include Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, chairman and secretary-general, respectively, of the CCP, who were arrested on murder charges in Cebu in March 2014, and Adelberto Silva who replaced the Tiamzons as the head of the CPP. Silva, too, was arrested for outstanding arrest warrants for murder.
Over the weekend, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte confirmed that he and CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison are in talks to formally declare a ceasefire between the government and the rebel group’s armed wing, the New People’s Army, as the incoming leader seeks to put an end to the longest-running communist secessionist movement in the region.
In an interview, Hernani Braganza, an incoming member of the government peace panel, said that both sides would have to assess who should be included in an amnesty.
‘‘When you talk about Jasig [joint agreement on security and immunity guarantees], it’s not just about those who will be moved out of jail. It includes their staff, as their team of experts who will face the government’s experts. Their security personnel and their secretariat will also be covered by Jasig so that they can also move freely and consult with their constituency,” Braganza said.
The list of communist leaders, obtained from the rights group Karapatan, included 21 people, all of whom are in jail on criminal charges.
Aside from the Tiamzons and Silva, the list includes: Tirso Alcantara, senior NDF consultant captured by the AFP’s Southern Luzon Command after he was wounded in a gunfight; Emeterio Antalan and Eduardo Fraginal, both charged with murder, kidnapping and illegal possession of firearms, detained at the Nueva Ecija provincial jail; Eduardo Sarmiento, detained at the Philippine National Police custodial center in Camp Crame for arson and illegal possession of firearms; Jaime Soledad, detained at the Leyte provincial jail for multiple murder; Alfredo Mapano, detained at the Cagayan de Oro City police office for double murder and robbery charges; Pedro Codaste, top NPA leader in Agusan del Sur who was arrested in December for multiple murder cases; and Ma. Concepcion Araneta-Bocala, a former UP Journalism student who led the NPA ranks in Panay Island.
Also included are Renato Baleros Sr., Porferio Tuna, Ariel Arbitrario, Kennedy Bangibang, Ruben Saluta, Renante Gamara, Alan Jazmines, Ernesto Lorenzo, Ma. Loida Magpatoc and Leopoldo Caloza.
Braganza said that there are currently 543 political prisoners from the CPP-NDFP, 18 of whom are NDF consultants, 88 of whom are sick, and 48 of whom were elderly.
The incoming administration had said that agreements that the government has signed with the communist rebels will be honored, but these need congressional approval.
Braganza said that a general amnesty might be possible for all political prisoners through legislation or presidential proclamation—which also needs congressional approval.
Braganza said that the leftist bloc in the House might sponsor a measure in seeking to grant total amnesty to all political prisoners.
“There are processes that we need to follow. There are progressive blocs inside Congress. They can take the initiative of filing that bills. How long will that take in Congress? Let’s see,” he said.
Leftist groups that won in the last election inlcude Bayan Muna, ACT Teachers, Anakpawis, Kabataan, and Gabriela, who altogether have eight seats in the House. It is unclear if they will join the “supermajority” being formed by incoming House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to facilitate President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s legislative agenda.
Braganza, together with peace panel chairman, Silvestre Bello III and Jess Dureza, went to The Netherlands to sign a five-point agenda with the communists upon resumption of the talks, which includes an affirmation of previously signed agreements; an accelerated negotiation process, reconstitution of the previously signed Jasig, an amnesty proclamation with the concurrence of Congress; and the mode for an interim ceasefire.
At his thanksgiving party in Cebu Saturday night, Duterte expressed hope that the incoming administration’s efforts to resume peace talks with communist rebels will bear positive results.
In the same speech, Duterte revealed that he’s already talking with Sison, his former mentor, for a unilateral ceasefire after the start of the formal peace talks.
He also appealed to communist rebels to honor the declaration of a ceasefire so that the peace process won’t get stalled as it did in the past administrations.
“I’m talking to the communists right now. I might succeed,” he said.
Aside from efforts to resume peace talks with communist rebels, Duterte said he is also holding dialogues with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front to iron out “whatever arrangement is acceptable for all.”
Duterte said he would feel accomplished if he succeeds in bringing lasting peace to the country, and eliminating illegal drugs and crime.
Braganza said that Duterte has only given them 12 months to finish the talks and come to an agreement with the communists.
Earlier, Bello said that simultaneous talks will be pursued to accelerate the negotiations and to come up with a final peace agreement in nine to 12 months.
“We are only given 12 months to finish the job,” Braganza told reporters on Saturday.
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