Duterte eyes release of political prisoners to show good faith

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 23 2016 11:57 PM

Benito and Wilma Tiamzon. File photo courtesy of Philippine National Police

DAVAO CITY - Incoming president Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he is willing to free political prisoners even if no peace agreement has yet been reached with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Duterte said he has no problems with a general amnesty, even for Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) leaders Wilma and Benito Tiamzon, as long as they deal in good faith with his administration.

“Basta we deal in good faith. Ako naman I’m offering my peace in good faith so lahat tayo must deal in good faith. Wala akong agenda so huwag mo akong lokohin,” he said.

Talks bogged down between the Aquino government and communist rebels in 2013 over the rebels’ demand for the unconditional release of political prisoners. The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), citing the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) signed in 1995, said political prisoners serving as “peace consultants” must be freed.

In rejecting the rebels’ demand, the Aquino government said there was no way to validate the identities of those who are covered by JASIG.

After initially saying that he may release political prisoners even before peace talks resume, Duterte later clarified that he would push for granting amnesty only after the talks begin.

However, he said he may order them released as a confidence-building measure even if no peace agreement has yet been reached with the communists.

“No, no that’s crazy (releasing political prisoners before resumption of talks). Ang sabi ko, kung meron nang talks. May talks na, before the resolution. Hindi na kailangang tapusin, good faith ba, yung show of confidence building. O sige bitawan ko na kayo, usap tayo,” he said.

“Wala namang negotiations na maganda talaga eh. Whatever it is, whether uncivil or civil, whether ill-mannered or good-mannered, basta ‘pag nandyan na, ‘pag umpisa na, i-release ko kayo… and you take part in the talks. Hindi yung i-release muna. Eh kung ‘di mag-uwi, saan yan hanapin ngayon?” he said.

Aside from freeing political prisoners, Duterte earlier said he sees no problem if self-exiled communist leaders Luis Jalandoni and Jose Maria Sison come home to the Philippines and resume talks.

Duterte said he would have to involve in the talks the military and lawyers.

“Kasi nasa loob yan, eh sila labas. Upo ka dito at harap-harapan tayo and I would also have my panel. It would be good that the military (is included), (that is) very important. And it would also include lawyers and those who are in the know in crafting itong mga peace settlements,” he said.

The victory of Duterte in the May 9 elections has sparked hope that the communist insurgency in the Philippines, the longest-running in Asia, will soon end.

Running for almost half a century, the communist insurgency has claimed 30,000 lives, according to military estimates.

The rebels' strength has dwindled to less than 4,000 fighters from a peak of more than 26,000 in the late 1980s, according to the military.