Gov’t committed to free all 400 political prisoners: Bello

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 04 2016 01:46 PM | Updated as of Dec 04 2016 02:07 PM

MANILA -- Though it may take some time, the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte remains committed to its promise of freeing all 400 political prisoners with the first 100 to be released before the third round of peace talks in January, government chief negotiator Silvestro Bello III said Sunday.

Bello made the clarification following an ongoing hunger strike seeking to demand the immediate release of the political prisoners and fears that the government will not keep its word.

“Yes, that is the commitment of our President and our President will keep his word,” Bello said in an interview on ANC’s “Dateline Philippines Weekend.”

President Rodrigo Duterte has reportedly agreed to release as many as 130 political prisoners after meeting with officials of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Davao, an official who was at the meeting but refused to be identified said.

Last Friday, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) warned the government that it may resume its armed resistance if the government fails to release all 432 political prisoners, as stated in the August 26 Oslo joint statement between the government and the CPP's arm, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

However, NDFP legal consultant Atty. Edre Olalia expressed concerns over the varying number of political prisoners that the government promised to release.

Olalia said the government initially promised to grant general amnesty to 400 prisoners but numbers kept dwindling down with current figures posted at about 20.

“We don’t know really, so we just have to wait when the political prisoners actually walk out of jail. We cannot peg on the changing of numbers that are being announced by the government panel,” he said in a separate interview with ANC.

Bello explained that the releases may take some time since the political prisoners need to undergo judicial process given that most of them are not yet qualified for pardon.

“We gave them an assurance that everything is moving in close coordination with their lawyers so pretty soon magpapa-release po tayo,” Bello said.

Political prisoners may be released on bail, petition for recognizance, and petition for investigation so that warrants of arrest could be lifted according to Bello.

NOT A PRE-CONDITION

Olalia, however, clarified that the release of political prisoners is not a pre-condition for the peace talks but is simply a fulfillment of the government’s promise.

“It is a confidence-building measure and it is a matter of justice,” he said.

“This is not only a call for justice. This is not only a call for release but it is also a call for protest, because every second that they remain in jail is a second of injustice.”

Over 150 prisoners in 10 detention centers across the country are currently on hunger strike to attract attention to their call for freedom, Olalia said.