MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has granted pardon to four communist rebels convicted for murder and kidnapping, government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III said Friday.
Bello, concurrently the labor secretary, said Martin Villanueva, Bonifacio Suyon, Dindo Absalon and Rico Bodina have been granted pardon by the president.
“We are giving them the justice they deserve regardless of their guilt or innocence. They deserve to be freed,” Bello said in a statement.
Bello said the four convicts, who have been in jail for 18 to 26 years, may be released Friday or Monday.
Villanueva and Suyon were convicted for kidnapping while Absalon and Bodina served time for murder.
Bello said the previous administration sat on the recommendation of the Presidential Committee on Bail, Recognizance and Pardon (PCBREP) to release the prisoners.
“These rebels have long been recommended for pardon but the previous government did not sign the draft order to release them,” Bello said.
Bello also revealed that three more suspected communist rebels serving time but awaiting final entry of judgment are also due for release pending legal requirements from the courts.
“They cannot avail themselves of a presidential pardon or executive clemency while their appeals are pending and awaiting final entry of judgment,” Bello said.
400 POLITICAL PRISONERS
The release of the four prisoners comes amid mounting pressure from militant groups calling for the release of over 400 political prisoners.
The intensifying calls were made in the wake of the death of political prisoner Bernabe Ocasla, a peasant leader who was being considered for release on humanitarian grounds.
Bello said the government is now working for the release of about 200 detained rebels. He said the recommendation to have the prisoners released have already been submitted for review.
“But we have recommended the immediate release of 21 sickly detainees, three other elderly suspected rebels and one woman detainee,” he said.
Bello asked for more patience from leftist groups over the release of political detainees, noting that the current PCBREP guidelines only allow the release on bail, recognizance or pardon of prisoners who committed offenses on or before 1998.
The proposed guidelines cover offenses committed as of July 1, 2016, Bello said.
The Duterte government is currently holding talks with the Philippines' communist movement in an effort to end one of Asia's longest-running Maoist insurgency.