Human rights group Karapatan on Tuesday said President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration seem to be “stalling” the efforts of the peace negotiations as they refuse to release all political prisoners.
“Lest the GRP’s use of the political prisoners as trump cards in the peace process will be seen as its vile attempt to set the stage to renege on its commitments and obligations, they should release all of them now,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said in a statement.
Duterte on Monday evening said he would not release 130 political prisoner, which was part of confidence-building measures for the negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Meanwhile, government negotiator Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a statement that the President told him that he will release the prisoners if there is already a signed bilateral ceasefire agreement.
The New People’s Army, the military arm of the CPP, has been waging the longest communist insurgency in Asia. Peace talks between the government and the NDF resumed with the election of Duterte.
Palabay said the non-release of all political prisoners “is a continuing violation of their rights and a perpetuation of the injustice against them promoted by a legal and justice system that has repeatedly failed them.”
Duterte earlier promised to release all political prisoners but so far only 19 of them have been temporarily released so they may participate in the formal peace talks.
Palabay said the Duterte government agreed to uphold the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), “which explicitly states the obligation of the (government) to uphold the rights of citizens against unwarranted and unjustified arrest and detention and to correct the injustice against them.”
Human rights groups have claimed that many of the political prisoners are victims of unwarranted arrest and detention, especially since some of them are political consultants of the NDF.
Protests and hunger strikes have been held in recent weeks to urge the government to release the political prisoners.
Palabay, responding to comments that it is “undue public pressure on the government,” said the concern is urgent for dying, sick and elderly political prisoners.
Bernabe Ocasla, one of the hundreds of political prisoners, recently died due to stroke.
Palabay said the release of political prisoners should not be considered “charity cases.”
“It is an immediate obligation – to render justice to the political prisoners by releasing them. So while Pres. Duterte has taken bold steps to pursue peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, these steps won’t become significant if his people are taking their sweet time,” she said. JE