By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Talks on possible joint ceasefire between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have been deferred to February due to the non-release of political prisoners.
The government peace panel committed anew to release political prisoners as the third round of formal talks ended Jan. 25 in Rome, Italy.
In a joint statement released by both parties to the media, the GRP, with the assistance of defense lawyers, will hasten the release of all political prisoners either through bail, recognizance, pardon of other legal processes.
Both parties agreed to study the issuance of an amnesty proclamation, the fastest way to release all political prisoners, “consequent to the substantial progress of the peace negotiations.”
There are 329 political prisoners in the country.
In his closing statement, NDFP peace panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili reiterated that the release of political prisoners is not simply a goodwill measure on the part of the GRP nor is it a precondition. “It is a matter of redressing an injustice. It is a matter of compliance with the CARHRIHL,” he said.
Signed by both parties in March 1998, CARHRIHL or the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law upholds the Hernandez political doctrine, a Supreme Court jurisprudence prohibiting criminalization of political offences. Majority of political prisoners are charged with common crimes.
The GRP panel committed to facilitate the release of detained NDFP consultants Eduardo Sarmiento, Emeterio Antalan and Leopoldo Caloza https://www.bulatlat.com/2015/10/19/ndfp-consultants-convicted-of-trumped-up-charges legal modes.
Agcaoili maintained that the arrest and incarceration of the three NDFP consultants violate the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) signed by both parties in 1998.
“The political prisoners have suffered enough. We fervently hope that the release and amnesty of the political prisoners listed by the NDFP will be given the attention it merits in the course of our continuing negotiations to lay the basis for a more stable ceasefire agreement and accelerate the pace of the peace talks,” Agcaoili said.
A political prisoner died Nov. 28, 2016 while waiting for his release. Bernabe Ocasla suffered nine years in detention for trumped-up charges of murder.
During the first round of talks in Oslo, Norway, both parties agreed to recommend to President Duterte the issuance of a general amnesty for the release of political prisoners.
Agcaoili noted that Duterte and the GRP panel promised to release all political prisoners not once but several times.
“The promise given in August 2016 in order to secure the indefinite extension of the unilateral ceasefire of the revolutionary movement has not materialized to date,” Agcaoili said.
Still open to joint ceasefire
Despite the failure to release all political prisoners, the NDFP has agreed to discuss the joint bilateral ceasefire with the GRP in the third week of February in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
The GRP submitted a draft bilateral ceasefire to the NDFP on Jan. 24. Agcaoili said the NDFP will study the draft government proposal and will submit its own draft.
GRP peace panel chairperson and Labor Secretary Silvestro Bello III said in a statement, “The fact that they agreed to discuss it is a positive development of the (peace) process.”
While the talks were ongoing, elements of the 39th Infantry Battalion attacked a New People’s Army camp in Makilala, North Cotabato, Jan. 21. One NPA fighter and eight soldiers were killed during the armed encounter.
Agcaoili condemned the incident, as well as the extrajudicial killings of one Lumad and one peasant leader on Jan. 20. “This latest incident (Makilala encounter) could be the last straw that may force the hand of the NDFP leadership to rescind its own unilateral ceasefire,” he said.
For Bello, however, the Makilala incident should push both panels to pursue a bilateral ceasefire in order to direct complaints on violations and prompt investigation by a third party monitor.
Both parties signed the supplemental guidelines of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC), Jan. 21. Formed in 2004, the JMC is mandated to oversee compliance of both parties to the CARHRIHL.