DAVAO CITY, Philippines – National Democratic Front chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said the bilateral ceasefire agreement and amnesty for political prisoners can be discussed “before, during and even after” the third round of formal talks in Rome next year.

Sison in a Facebook post on Tuesday wrote that he and President Rodrigo Duterte had a “productive phone conversation” about the GRP-NDF peace talks.

“I had a friendly and productive conversation with President Duterte about the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations at around7 p.m. Monday, Utrecht time,” he said.

“Bilateral ceasefire agreement and the amnesty and release of the political prisoners listed by the NDFP can be discussed and agreed upon before, during and even after the third round of formal talks in Rome from January 18 to 24,” he said.

The two issues remain at hand after Duterte previously made pronouncements that he will not release prisoners unless a bilateral ceasefire between the government and the NDF is signed. But Duterte has committed to release sickly and elderly prisoners this month.

Sison said the unilateral ceasefire declarations of the GRP and NDFP will stand during Christmas and New Year.

Meanwhile, human rights group Karapatan lamented that hundreds of political prisoners are still spending Christmas inside prison.

“After all what has been said and done, political prisoners (PPs) will still spend Christmas inside cramped jails,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Since Pres. Duterte first talked about releasing political prisoners, a political prisoner has already died, several have been rushed to hospitals and PPs already went into fasting and hunger strike, and additional 15 have been illegally arrested and are still detained,” Palabay said.

Karapatan said only one political prisoner was released in line with the GRP-NDFP peace talks, since September 2016.

Martin Villanueva, a political prisoner was granted pardon and released last December 9.

Pedro Lumantas, wrongly convicted and jailed for eight years, was released on conditional parole last December 13, due to previous efforts of his relatives and Karapatan to have him released when he served his minimum sentence.

“However, instead of an unconditional release, Lumantas had to report to Bohol Provincial jail every two weeks. He is not allowed to travel far which is almost the same as not being free,” Palabay said.

Lumantas is one of the 130 ailing prisoners listed by Karapatan.

There were 19 NDFP consultants and staff have been temporarily released on bail in August 2016.

“From July to December 2016, at least 21 political prisoners, including Lumantas, have been released on the merits of their legal defense and other remedies availed by human rights lawyers, families and human rights workers, independent of the peace process,” said Palabay.

Meanwhile, several peace and rights advocates continue to demand for the immediate and unconditional release of 400 political detainees.(davaotoday.com)

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