Groups reiterate amnesty call for political prisoners

Manila criticized for making prisoner release conditional on outcome Philippine peace talks
Groups reiterate amnesty call for political prisoners

Student activists hold a demonstration in Manila to demand the release of political prisoners. (Photo by Rene Sandajan)

A day before the resumption of formal peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the rebel National Democratic Front human rights groups have reiterated their call for the immediate release all political prisoners, especially the women, the ailing, and elderly.

"Their continuing incarceration is a grave injustice not only to the political prisoners but to their families as well," said Father Dionito Cabillas, spokesman of Selda, an organization of political prisoners and former political detainees.

Farther Cabillas, a priest of the Philippine Independent Church — which split from the Catholic Church in 1902 — said that as of Aug. 31, there were 504 political prisoners in jail.

"They have suffered long enough because of fabricated cases filed against them. It is about time that they walk free," he said.

Of the 504 political prisoners, 148 are sick, elderly, women, and suspected rebels who have been incarcerated for more than ten years.

Father Cabillas cited the cases of Maria Miradel Torres, a political prisoner who had to wean her then six-month-old son from breastfeeding because she was not allowed to be with him and Moreta Alegre, 69, who is detained in a women's prison while husband Jesus, 70, and son Selman, 40, are detained at the national penitentiary. 


Non-compliance of government

The National Democratic Front, meanwhile, has decried the "continuing non-compliance" of the Philippine government with previously signed agreements.

In a statement on Oct. 4, the rebel group said the release of all political prisoners should not be an outcome of a final peace agreement.

The group issued the statement after government peace negotiator Silvestre Bello said a general amnesty for detained rebels can only be declared by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte — with the concurrence of Congress — "once peace talks are successfully concluded."

Rebel peace negotiator Luis Jalandoni said the release of all political prisoners "should not be an outcome of the successful conclusion of the peace talks."

"Anchoring an amnesty proclamation to a final peace agreement would make the more than 400 detained political prisoners and the recently released rebel consultants virtual hostages to the peace talks," said Jalandoni.

In a joint statement following the first round of talks in Oslo, Norway, in August, government and rebel negotiators agreed that the government panel will immediately recommend to Duterte the issuance of an amnesty proclamation, subject to concurrence of Congress.

The second round of peace negotiations aimed at ending almost 50 years of conflict began in Oslo on Oct. 6, with social and economic reforms as the focus of discussions.

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