PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has already ordered the release of some 17 or 20 political prisoners for humanitarian reasons, government negotiators said Tuesday.
Labor Secretary and government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III assured leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines that some of the sickly and elderly political detainees would soon be released.
“It is just a matter of time. The President will keep his word,” Bello said, explaining that the next release of rebels for humanitarian reasons is not tied to the bilateral ceasefire agreement that the government is seeking to forge with the rebels.
Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza said the impeding release only awaits the formal announcement by the President.
“Let us just wait for the formal announcement,” Dureza added.
Duterte earlier announced he would order the release of elderly and sick detained rebels in time for Christmas for humanitarian reasons.
The National Democratic Front, the political umbrella of the CPP and the NPA, has demanded the release of 434 detained rebel leaders and members as compliance to the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, which the two peace panels signed during the Ramos administration.
Bello, however, asked the rebels for a little more patience as the government needs to comply with certain procedures before any release of political prisoners.
“There are some legal processes that we have to comply before they can be released,” he said.
Bello also said a final peace deal will have to be signed very soon so that it could be implemented during the Duterte administration.
The next round of talks that will be held in Rome will focus on social and economic reforms.
“We have tapped the expertise of economists from the University of the Philippines to draft the economic reform agenda of the government, which we will present on the negotiating table in Rome,” Bello said.
At least two days have been dedicated for discussions on social and economic reforms during the five-day formal talks, which begin on Jan. 19.
Bello earlier visited one of the village strongholds of the rebel New People’s Army in Paquibato District, Davao City, to attend a peace forum which coincided with the 48th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Speaking before 8,000 rebel sympathizers and supporters, Bello shared the same optimism with CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison who, in a video message, said the prospect of achieving peace under the Duterte administration is brighter than at any point in the rebel’s almost five decades of armed rebellion.
The head of the government peace panel was accompanied by Undersecretary Joel Maglungsod and Interior and Local Government Secretary Mike Sueno.
Bello assured rebel leaders that some of the sickly and elderly political detainees would soon be released.
Close to 5,000 people flocked to Barangay Mananum Bag-o in Medina, Misamis Oriental to mark the 48th anniversary of the CPP, ferried by hundreds of vehicles from different provinces in Region 10.
At the barangay hall, close to 100 New People’s Army rebels met their relatives, participated in a cultural production and attended the peace forum initiated by the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform hosted by bishops, priests and nuns from various religious orders.
The PEPP is one of the third party facilitators for the peace process.
Wilfredo “Ka Paris” Mapano, one of the 20 political detainees recently released to join the Oslo peace talks offered an overview of the peace process.
Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Iglesia Filipina Independente (IFI) and PEPP said they were pinning their hopes on the political capital of President Duterte to pursue the peace talks and to establish a lasting peace with the communists.
He said, however, that Duterte’s on again, off again remarks were “worrisome.”
“Both sides also must do their best when it comes to the ceasefire. Both parties must come up with a bilateral ceasefire agreement,” Calang said. With Lance Baconguis, PNA