DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Four political prisoners who have been serving time for more than one to two decades will soon be freed as the presidential pardon given by President Rodrigo Duterte takes effect.

In a statement on Friday, government chief negotiator and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Martin Villanueva, Bonifacio Suyon, Dindo Absalon and Rico Bodina “will walk free anytime today or Monday at the latest.”

Villanueva is currently incarcerated in New Bilibid Prison; Suyon and Absalon are detained in Leyte Regional Prison, while Bodina is in Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Palawan.

“These rebels have long been recommended for pardon but the previous government did not sign the draft order to release them,” Bello said.

He added that the prisoners have already served at least 18 years and up to 26 years.

“We are giving them the justice they deserve regardless of their guilt or innocence.  They deserve to be freed,” Bello said.

Villanueva and Suyom were convicted for kidnapping while Absalon and Bodino served time for murder.

He said former President Benigno Aquino “sat” on the recommendation of the Presidential Committee on Bail, Recognizance and Pardon over the release of Villanueva and company.

Bello said 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,” he said.

But he said a draft order is already prepared for their pardon pending submission of their completed case folders.

He said they have also recommended the immediate release of 21 sickly detainees, three other elderly suspected rebels and a woman detainee, all of whom Bello did not name in his statement.

The government peace panel also revealed that they have already submitted the names of 200 detained rebels for review and approval by appropriate government agencies.

Bello said the releases will take time because the old guidelines of the PCBREP needs to be amended.

“The old PCBREP guidelines only allowed releases on bail, recognizance or pardon for offenses committed on or before 1998, which would not cover those detained during the Arroyo and Pnoy (Benigno Aquino, III) administrations,” he said.

Under the new guidelines, all offenses committed as of July 1, 2016 are now covered by the PCBREP guidelines.

The announcement of the president’s pardon came four days after the death of Bernabe Ocasla, 66 who was charged of multiple murder over the alleged New People’s Army mass grave in Leyte.

Ocasla, who was a farmer in Samar, was among the 130 ailing political prisoners, according to human rights group Karapatan.

Human rights groups scored the Duterte administration for Ocasla’s death. They reiterated calls for the immediate release of political prisoners as promised by President Rodrigo Duterte and agreed during the resumption of the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front in Oslo, Norway.

Karapatan said as of October 31, there are 401 political prisoners, 37 are elderly and 33 are women. (davaotoday.com)

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