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Duterte refuses to release all political prisoners

Philippine president claims he has made too many concessions to communist rebels in peace talks

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Published: December 07, 2016 03:59 AM GMT

Updated: December 07, 2016 04:00 AM GMT

Duterte refuses to release all political prisoners

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte talks with members of his cabinet before a meeting on Dec. 5. (Photo by Ace Morandante)


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has refused to release all political prisoners despite calls from rebel groups and human rights activists.

The president said he has "already conceded so much on the side of the government" to the demands of communist rebels.

The release of political prisoners is a priority agenda in the peace negotiations between the government and the communist-led National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

But apart from 19 NDFP peace consultants, no other political prisoner has been released.  

The government and the NDFP entered into peace talks in August to end almost five decades of armed conflict.

Duterte said he will only order the release of 130 political prisoners if the government and rebel peace negotiators sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement this week.

The government aims to have the ceasefire deal signed by Dec. 10.

The president said he would only order the release of old political prisoners and those with incurable diseases by Christmas.

"There's really no point in detaining a person who is old and sick," said Duterte.

As of Dec. 1 there were 400 political prisoners still behind bars.

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Perpetuation of injustice

Human rights group Karapatan said Duterte's refusal to release all political prisoners is a "continuing violation of their rights and a perpetuation of the injustice against them."

Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary-general, said the government's use of the prisoners as "trump cards" in the peace process is a "vile attempt to set the stage to renege on its commitments and obligations."

Palabay called on members of the government peace panel to "stop dragging their feet in effecting the releases."

"The clock is ticking for the dying, sick and elderly political prisoners. So while the government is walking at its own pace, these political prisoners are running out of time," she said.

On Dec. 4, an elderly and ailing political prisoner, Apolonio Barado, was rushed to a prison hospital due to chest pains. 

Barado, 62, was found to be suffering from coronary artery disease, hypertensive cardiovascular disease, and diabetes mellitus. 

A peasant organizer in the southern Luzon region of Bicol, Barado was arrested in 2001 and has spent 15 years in prison.  

Karapatan has recommended to the government the release on humanitarian grounds of 130 sickly political prisoners.


Hunger strike

Political prisoners went on a hunger strike this week to demand their immediate release.

Various activists groups, including Catholic priests, nuns, and seminarians, are also holding a" solidarity fast for freedom" from Dec. 3 to Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.

A "sympathy fast center" outside the gates of the presidential palace in Manila has been set up for those participating in the solidarity protest fast. 

"As long as there are political prisoners, we will continue to call for their release, in every way possible," said Palabay.

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