Treating political prisoners as trump cards is inhumane

NDFP Media Office
Statement from NDFP Peace Panel Chair Fidel Agcaoili

President Rodrigo Duterte’s allusion to the peace negotiations as a high-stakes poker game is deplorable, as it tragically leads to the inhumane treatment of close to 400 political prisoners as trump cards and the callous sweeping aside of justice by his deft playing hand.

His latest pronouncement is disturbing and disappointing, being a complete turnaround from the commitments he made to a high-level NDFP delegation last December 2 in Davao City, where he categorically committed to pardoning 40 convicted political prisoners and releasing 130 sick and elderly political detainees before Christmas.

Duterte’s rash accusation that the political prisoners are all NPAs betrays his adherence to his predecessors’ policy and practice of detaining political prisoners on the basis of trumped-up criminal charges and using them as hostages to leverage and pressure the NDFP into an indefinite ceasefire or negotiated capitulation. This is in gross violation of prior bilateral agreements such as the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) which his administration has reaffirmed. Being a former prosecutor, President Duterte knows that the criminalization of political offenses violates Philippine and international jurisprudence as well.

Thirteen political prisoners have died while in detention, twelve under previous regimes, another one barely two weeks ago. What brought about President Duterte’s change of heart in just a matter of days is for him to answer to the Filipino people, especially the families, relatives and supporters of the political prisoners whose hopes and trust in his word are fast eroding.

President Duterte can still redeem himself in their eyes, however, if he makes good this time on his word of releasing all of the close to 400 political prisoners soon after a bilateral ceasefire agreement is signed. His own pronouncements that he can release political prisoners within 48 hours belie previous statements by the OPAPP and GRP peace panel that they have been working in earnest for the release of 50-200 political prisoners but that the judicial processes require some time to effect the release.

The NDFP has already announced its willingness to sit down with the GRP peace panel and work on a bilateral ceasefire accord and have it ready for signing by the third week of January by the parties’ respective principals. The bilateral ceasefire can take effect after 48 hours, the timeframe within which the President said he would order the release of all the political prisoners.

The NDFP stands by its position that the release and amnesty of the political prisoners as a matter of justice and compliance with agreements will serve as impetus to a more stable ceasefire and vastly improve the atmosphere for negotiations on socio-economic reforms. ###

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