Press Release | 6 October 2016
The second round of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations started with the two panels expressing optimism on the success of the talks. Both panels are acutely aware of the high expectations among our people especially since the next item in the substantive agenda, social and economic reforms, has been variously described as the “meat of the peace negotiations” and the “heart and soul of the peace negotiations”. This is because it would involve addressing one of the principal causes of the ongoing armed conflict: widespread poverty along with issues of unemployment, underdevelopment, social injustice and so on.
But one thorny issue has persisted that is testing the patience of the NDFP negotiating panel and threatening to spoil the initial optimism that has arisen under the new administration of GRP President Rodrigo Duterte.
The new NDFP panel Chair Fidel Agcaoili, pointed to this issue in his opening speech when he highlighted the long-standing concern of the NDFP regarding the release of more than 400 political prisoners accumulated during previous GRP administrations in violation of CARHRIHL and the Hernandez political offense doctrine by piling up charges of common crimes on suspected NDFP personnel. The release of the current political prisoners is therefore a matter of justice.
According to NDFP Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison, the NDFP was greatly encouraged when Pres. Duterte promised to proclaim a general amnesty as the most effective way of redressing this injustice. Because of this, the NDFP responded positively to the long-standing demand of the GRP for a ceasefire. In the past the NDFP was cool to the idea of a ceasefire because GRP forces had the habit of violating their own ceasefire anyway by continuing to conduct military operations in the field.
The NDFP has kept to its obligation on its unilateral ceasefire declaration. The current ceasefire has been holding and so far no fighting has been reported between the AFP and the NPA. However, the promise to release the political prisoners seems to be suffering from delay after delay after delay.
The NDFP panel chair served notice to the GRP side that if this anomalous situation continues, it can serve as a disincentive to the NDFP in further pursuing the discussions on prolonging the ceasefire and arriving at a bilateral agreement on a more stable ceasefire. It can also hinder progress in working out agreements on social and economic reforms (SER), political and constitutional reforms (PCR) and end of hostilities and disposition of forces (EHDF).
On the other hand, a prompt resolution of this issue will go a long way in creating a favorable atmosphere for prolonging the ceasefire and advancing the negotiations on SER, PCR and EHDF.
Agcaoili recalled that it was Pres. Duterte himself who offered to declare amnesty as the most expeditious way of effecting the release the more than 400 political prisoners to redress the injustice. Pres. Duterte made the promise during their first meeting on May 16 in connection with the resumption of the peace negotiations.
He said that Duterte was of the opinion that amnesty would be the best mode of release among the various methods that Agcaoili had recommended, such as archiving, bail, recognizance in effecting the release of all the political prisoners, including JASIG-protected persons, the sick, elderly, women and long-term detainees for humanitarian reasons.
Agcaoili clarified that the proffered amnesty proclamation pertains to the currently detained political prisoners and not to a general amnesty that is mutually extended to the forces of both parties in the final settlement of an armed conflict. He made the clarification in view of recent statements from GRP panel chief Silvestre Bello III that an amnesty proclamation would be issued by Duterte only upon the successful conclusion of the peace negotiations.
He stressed that these two amnesty concepts should not be muddled, “lest we be accused of using the political prisoners as leverage to secure advantage across the negotiating table or to demand capitulation of one side by another.”
“The continuing detention of the more than 400 political prisoners is manifestly a grave injustice,” said Agcaoili. “It does not befit a regime that wants to bring about change by engaging in peace negotiations with the revolutionary movement and the Moro people.” #
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