MANILA - Following their temporary release from detention, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon expressed optimism about the peace talks between rebel forces and the Philippine government.
The Tiamzons are among the 17 National Democratic Front (NDF) consultants granted temporary freedom so far to join the peace talks in Oslo, Norway.
"Our release is a goodwill measure and creates an environment conducive to peace talks. We thank President Rodrigo Duterte for ordering our release,'' Benito said in a press briefing.
Each Tiamzon carried a P10-million bounty before they were arrested in April 2014. They were charged with murder, multiple murder and frustrated murder over the death or torture of over 100 alleged military spies and civilians from 1985 to 1992.
Wilma said the cases that were filed against her and her husband were all fabricated to suppress their cause.
The rebels are aiming to have all 22 consultants be in Norway by August 22, or by the middle of peace talks if they arrive late. President Rodrigo Duterte earlier assured the temporary release of the 22 consultants.
In addition to the consultants released, political prisoners Alex and Winona Birondo were also granted bail on humanitarian grounds.
Four more detained consultants have yet to post bail, while three convicted consultants still await special arrangements to participate in the peace talks.
The Tiamzons also called for the release of some 550 political prisoners who they said were also victims of fabricated complaints.
NDF consultant Alan Jazmines, meanwhile, said political prisoners have endured torture from military and police personnel.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said Duterte has already promised to release other elderly and sick communist rebels on humanitarian grounds while the mode of the releases of the remaining rebels will be subject of the negotiations.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said they are finalizing travel documents of the freed consultants, admitting it has been challenging in light of the last-minute releases.
'ONE STUMBLING BLOCK REMOVED'
Dureza said the release of the Tiamzon couple proves Duterte's sincerity in achieving durable peace with the communist rebels.
''With their release, in addition to more than a dozen of NDF consultants earlier granted bail and already freed, one more stumbling block is removed. We are looking forward to a fruitful but intense negotiations in Oslo,” Dureza said.
Dureza said the peace panels are expected to immediately tackle social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities and disposition of forces, ceasefire, joint security and immunity and release of political detainees.
“We have agreed to expedite the peace process by simultaneously holding negotiations on five major agenda items by creating respective reciprocal working groups,” Dureza said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines, meanwhile, said it respects the Tiamzon couple's release and supports President Duterte's efforts to achieve peace with communist rebels.
"The Armed Forces of the Philippines submit to the wise discretion of the Court and support the magnanimous gesture of the President all in the quest for peace," the AFP said in a statement.
"Time and again, the AFP has been supportive of all peace efforts and covenants that will afford our people the opportunity to enjoy secured, prosperous, and peaceful lives --free from threat, fear, and want."
Duterte had sought to bring the rebels back to the negotiating table in an effort to end one of the world’s longest-running Maoist insurgencies that has claimed 30,000 lives since the 1960s.
The New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is believed to have fewer than 4,000 gunmen at present, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, according to the military.
But it retains support among the poor in rural areas, and its forces regularly kill police or troops while extorting money from local businesses and politicians.