Updated: December 07, 2016 04:00 AM GMT
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.
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.
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.
….as we enter the last months of 2021, we are asking readers like you to help us keep UCA News free.
For the last 40 years, UCA News has remained the most trusted and independent Catholic news and information service from Asia. Every week, we publish nearly 100 news reports, feature stories, commentaries, podcasts and video broadcasts that are exclusive and in-depth, and developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes.
Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to – South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.
And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters who cover 23 countries in south, southeast, and east Asia. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don’t have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.
With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.