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Philippine talks with communist rebels end with 'uncertainties'

Rebels dissatisfied with government's failure to release political prisoners

Philippine talks with communist rebels end with 'uncertainties'

Peace negotiators Fidel Agcaoili (left) and Jose Maria Sison of the rebel National Democratic Front of the Philippines sign initial agreements at the end of the second round of talks in Oslo, Norway. (Photo by Edwin Espejo)

Joe Torres, Manila
Philippines

October 13, 2016

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The second round of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and communist rebels ended in Oslo this week with "uncertainties" that dampened the initial optimism of the rebel group when talks opened last month.

A statement released by rebel representatives from the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) on Oct. 12 said there is "growing uneasiness and impatience" among rebel peace negotiators over the government's failure to release political prisoners.

The continuous detention of more than 500 suspected rebels has become one of the main issues raised by the rebel group after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed in May to speed up the release of prisoners.

Only 22 political prisoners, most of them rebel consultants, have so far been released "to do their best" to effect the freedom of those who remain in various jails and detention centers around the country.

In a separate statement on Oct. 12, human rights group Karapatan said that while the announcements of both the rebel and government panels "provide hope of freedom for political prisoners" the actual releases are still awaited.

"We remain steadfast in our call for the release for all political prisoners through general amnesty," said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan.

Palabay said she looks forward to the promise of both the government and the rebels to expedite the process of presidential clemency to release three wrongly convicted rebel consultants.

 

Attacks continue despite talks

Despite the ongoing peace negotiations, government attacks on activists, suspected rebels, and farmers accused of being rebel sympathizers continue.

In the past three months of the Duterte administration, Karapatan documented several cases of arrest and detention of peasants, peace advocates, and a tribal schoolteacher. On Oct. 7, at least 12 farmers were arrested, detained, and charged with theft.

"We hope that the Duterte administration stop legal offensives, the arrest and detention based on trumped up criminal charges, against activists and farmers fighting for genuine agrarian reform," said Palabay.

The rebels, meanwhile, claimed as talks were being held in Norway, government military offensives continue in rebel territories.

Jorge Madlos, spokesman of the New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, said rebel units, however, continue to "strictly abide by its own unilateral ceasefire declaration."

He said rebel units also conduct "counter-maneuvers" to avoid armed skirmishes with government troops. "But not a few units are having difficulty holding back amid threats," said Madlos.

In its statement, the NDFP said "a great chasm" between the government and rebel peace panels continues to exist "in the appreciation of ... age-old problems of rural landlessness and poverty due to the persistence of feudalism, and the absence of real industrialization that has failed to create jobs" for Filipinos.

The next round of talks is scheduled in the third week of January 2017 in a neutral foreign venue that will be announced later in the year.

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