Political prisoners ‘held hostage’ by peace talks

The Mindanao Examiner Regional Newspaper - - First Page -

DAVAO CITY – Human rights group Karapatan has criticized the Duterte government for its failure to release all political prisoners languishing in jails across the country.

It said President Duterte is using the issue as “trump cards” in the peace process in his attempt to set the stage to renege on its commitments and obligations,” although the government already freed 19 prisoners.

“While it is true that President Rodrigo Duterte effected the temporary release of nineteen political prisoners in line with the Philippine government and National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace talks, the non-release of all political prisoners is a continuing violation of their rights and a perpetuation of the injustice against them promoted by a legal and justice system that has repeatedly failed them,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.

“Most of the members of the government peace panel were also members of the peace panels in the previous administrations. They should not feign ignorance now that there are many available modes of release utilised in the past regimes in accordance to the government panel legal and judicial processes to facilitate the immediate release of the political prisoners. They should stop dragging their feet in effecting the releases,” she said.

Various human rights groups and civil society organizations also demanded for the immediate release of hundreds of political prisoners, mostly members of the New People’s Army and leftist activists.

But peace adviser Jesus Dureza said Duterte has walked the “extra mile” on the peace process, unlike past administrations which did not comply with their commitments and obligations.

However, Palabay questioned Dureza’s reference to undue public pressure on the government to free the prisoners. “Is there nothing urgent on the release of dying, sick and elderly political prisoners? Or was the death of Bernabe Ocasla undue? The clock is ticking for the dying, sick and elderly political prisoners. So while the government peace panel is walking at its own pace, the political prisoners are running out of time,” she said.

“If it is the fasting of the political prisoners, their relatives and peace advocates is considered the undue pressure on the government, we remind Sec. Dureza that every mass action, in all its forms is well within the bounds of the rights of citizens to demonstrate. Dureza has to understand that we will not sit down and wait for his office to do something. As long as there are political prisoners, we will continue to call for their release, in every way possible,” Palabay added.

Palabay reminded Duterte and Dureza that peace efforts, specifically on the release of political prisoners, are not a charity cases.

“Hindi ito utang na loob ng mga political prisoners. It is an immediate obligation – to render justice to the political prisoners by releasing them. So while Pres. Duterte has taken bold steps to pursue peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, these steps won’t become significant if his people are taking their sweet time. It should be the political prisoners and their relatives who should be appalled for the delays. Each delay means an extra day of suffering in prison. And lives have already lost,” she said.

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