DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The recent meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte and the leaders of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines yielded positive results, said NDF peace consultant Wilma Tiamzon.

Tiamzon, however, said they remain concerned with the plight of political prisoners, adding that their release should not be made “bargaining chip” in the peace negotiations.

In an interview with Davao Today on Saturday afternoon, Tiamzon said aside from the 25 political prisoners that will be released in the coming days, Duterte committed to release all those who are sick and elderly.

Based on the data of Karapatan Alliance for Human Rights, there are 130 ailing political prisoners on the list submitted to the government for immediate release.

In a meeting on Friday night, Tiamzon said the NDF discussed with Duterte the need to release 400 political prisoners.

“The NDFP believes that the release of the political prisoners is a matter of justice, they are victims of injustices and it is also in compliance with the signed Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law,” Tiamzon said.

“Their release will have a significant help in building trust between the government and the NDF, that’s why until now it is still a matter of concern,” she said.

Last Wednesday, Nov. 30, government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III said the government will release 50 to 70 political prisoners, including five to seven NDF consultants before the International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

On Friday, Dec. 2, Bello disclosed that President Duterte has granted pardon to four political prisoners.

Bello said Prisoners Martin Villanueva, Bonifacio Suyon, Dindo Absalon and Rico Bodina have long been recommended for pardon, “but the previous government did not sign the draft order to release them.”

Tiamzon said the four were not really criminals.

“Trumped up charges were filed against them,” she said.

Not enough

Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura Secretary General Danilo Ramos said the pardon of the four prisoners is “not enough.”

“All political prisoners must be released,” he said in a statement.

“The Martial Law legacy of militarization and peasant killings persist in the countryside. Until these issues are addressed, a just and lasting peace would still be elusive,” he added.

One of the staff members of UMA, Felicidad Caparal, was sentenced to life in prison at the Correctional Istitution for Women in Mandaluyong City.

Ramos said Caparal was abducted by state security forces on January 27, 2009 while on her way to Northern Samar to attend to her sick mother whom she planned to bring to Manila for medication.

“Caparal was held incommunicado and missing for nine days. She was convicted last year of absurd charges for involvement in a December 2002 ambuscade by the New People’s Army (NPA),” said Ramos.

Ramos added that during the time of the incident, Caparal was eight months pregnant with her first child.

Hunger strike

Political prisoners are now on hunger strike to demand for the release of all political prisoners in the country.

Karapatan said as of December 4,at least 150 political prisoners in 13 jails across the country started the hunger strike.

Inmates from Compostela Valley Provincial Rehabilitation Center (ComVal – PRC); Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), Lupon, Davao Oriental; BJMP-Digos City, Davao del Sur; Davao Penal Colony; Kidapawan Provincial Jail;and the Davao Penal Colony (DAPECOL) joined the fasting.

In a statement, prisoners from Dapecol said they feel that they are being used by the GRP to bargain a bilateral ceasefire agreement that they want the NDFP to sign.

“This is contrary to their obligation. The right thing to do is to release all political prisoners so that no more incidents like what happened to Bernabe Ocasla will occur again. The news of his death was an additional pain on our part,” DAPECOL political prisoners said.

Ocasla, 66, was a prisoner at the Manila City Jail who died of cardiac arrest on Nov. 28.

The fasting of political prisoners and their relatives will culminate on International Human Rights Day on December 10, 2016.

The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) today joined the sympathy fasting of farmers led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in support of the hunger strike of political prisoners nationwide.

They are demanding for the unconditional release of more than 400 political prisoners in the country, especially those who are sick, elderly, and the women who have spent many years in jail on fabricated charges.

Tiamzon said despite the recent talks with Duterte, they are adamant that the 400 will be released before the third round of talks in Rome, Italy on January next year based on how the talks went out.

“But if there is a willingness, a significant number of these political prisoners may be released,” she said.

Tiamzon added that it is within the power of the current administration to immediately release the prisoners. However, government negotiators said the releases of the prisoners need to follow judicial process. (davaotoday.com)

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