PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte plans to grant an absolute pardon to 40 to 50 political detainees before Christmas as a confidence-building measure with the communist rebels, a senior Cabinet official said Tuesday.
“In a few days maybe the President is going to pardon some of their consultants,” Labor Secretary and government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III said in a Palace press briefing.
“It’s very possible that they will be given a pardon, especially the elderly, the sickly and the women. Our President is biased towards women detainees or prisoners,” he added.
The National Democratic Front had earlier warned that the ceasefire agreement between them and the government was unlikely if the government did not do anything to release political prisoners.
Benito Tiamzon, Communist Party of the Philippines chairman, said that as of mid-November, the NDFP has not monitored any development in the government’s pledge to release a substantial number of political prisoners by the end of this month.
Tiamzon said the political prisoners should be released before December.
NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili last October demanded a general amnesty for more than 400 political prisoners as “a matter of justice and compliance with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.”
Bello however, insisted that the release of political prisoners should not be used as a precondition for a permanent ceasefire.
He added that he was not giving up on the hope of signing an agreement by Dec. 10.
The government and the NDF had earlier agreed to transform their indefinite ceasefire into a permanent one, agreed to by both sides, within two months of their siging of a joint statement on August 26.
Both negotiating panels, however, have yet to agree on some of the terms and conditions, including the definition of “hostile acts,” identification of battle zones, and members of a ceasefire monitoring team.
Bello said the definition of a hostile act was not as simple as it appeared.
“There are ramifications,” he said. “For example, is the collection of a revolutionary tax considered a hostile act?”
But Tiamzon disagreed with Bello’s assessment that only technical problems remained, and accused the government of spreading false news to gloss over serious obstacles to a more stable ceasefire.
In particular, Tiamzon cited allegations of continued abuses by government troops in violation of their own unilateral ceasefire.
Bello said, however, that if there were violations, Agcaoili should have called him.
He also urged the NDF to file cases before the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee.
Even if the joint ceasefire agreement is not signed by December 10, Bello said, he had a gentleman’s agreement with NDF chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni to extend their respective unilateral ceasefire declarations.