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NDF seeks release of political prisoners

OSLO, Norway – Lines were drawn right at the start of the second round of the peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front and the Philippine Government Thursday night, with the communist group asking for the immediate release of 409 political prisoners and the latter seeking a joint and lasting ceasefire agreement.

“My opening statement focuses on the issue of the release of all political prisoners,” said newly installed NDF Peace Panel Chair Fidel Agcaoili.

Agcaoili replaced former Chairman Luis Jalandoni, who, at 81, sought to retire from the talks.

Jalandoni averred that President Duterte had, on May 16, offered to him the release of all political prisoners through amnesty.

As a consequence, Agcaoili underscored that “granting amnesty” would be the most effective method of release, but only to the “sick, elderly, women, and long-term detainees for humanitarian reasons.”

He also said that the amnesty declaration the NDF was asking for did not pertain to a general assembly extended to the New People’s Army.

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said that the government, for its part, wanted to a general and more permanent ceasefire to be agreed upon in the talks.

“This can only be done if we are able to agree on the more substantive issues of social and economic reforms. These are the more contentious issues and we expect humps and bumps during the negotiations,” Dureza said.

As it is, the GRP and NDF have declared unilateral ceasefires in August, or at the start of the resumption of these talks. Since then, both sides noted that there has been no substantial violation of the truce.

“The significant impact of the indefinite ceasefire declared by the parties cannot be overemphasized, including the confidence of our peace constituency on the peace process. We note that the ceasefire is holding until this day, with no major violations reported by either party. This is an unparalleled achievement of the table, which should inspire us to advance the negotiations,” said GRP Peace Panel Chairman Silvestre Bello III.

He also assured the NDF that a draft amnesty proclamation for the 400 political prisoners was already ready, and that it was only a matter of endorsing this to Duterte.

According to a source, there were some tense moments at the start of the second round of talks which were held closed doors after the ceremonial opening, with the NDF insisting on the amnesty for the political detainees, and the GRP firm on forging a bilateral ceasefire. (Rocky Nazareno)