Peace Talks should pave way for Substantive Issues, Release of Remaining Political Prisoners

Karapatan welcomed the resumption of formal peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) today, August 22, 2016, as "an important occasion in the struggle for just and lasting peace in the Philippines."

"The resumption of the formal peace talks should pave the way for meaningful discussions between the two parties on substantive issues such as genuine agrarian reform, national industrialization, decent jobs and living wages, democratic access of the people to social services, respect for the right to self-determination of national minorities, national patrimony and an independent and nationalist foreign policy, among many others to address the root causes of the armed conflict," Cristina Palabay, Karapatan Secretary General, said. 

NDFP consultants Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, Alan Jazmines, Adelberto Silva and Renante Gamara, who were released on bail from prison last week, are among the first batch of recently released political prisoners to join the talks in Oslo, Norway. The following are also set to join them in Norway early this week: Ma. Concepcion Araneta-Bocala, Tirso Alcantara, Ariel Arbitrario, Kennedy Bangibang, Alex Birondo, Winona Birondo, Pedro Codaste, Eddie Genelsa, Ernesto Lorenzo, Loida Magpatoc, Alfredo Mapano, Ruben Saluta, Jaime Soledad and Porferio Tuna. 

The human rights group also reiterated the call for release of three wrongly convicted peace consultants Eduardo Sarmiento, Leopoldo Caloza, and Emeterio Antalan detained at the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City. "The three were illegally arrested and detained since the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration and was convicted during the Aquino regime. Their release is long overdue," Palabay emphasized. Separate court motions are set to be filed by counsels of the Public Interest Law Center and National Union of Peoples' Lawyers on the cases of the three in the coming days. 

The motion for release on bail of Renato Baleros Sr., an NDFP consultant who was recently brought to hospital because of a medical emergency, will be heard tomorrow at the Catbalogan Regional Trial Court Branch 28. 

"We also call on the Duterte administration to withdraw all the trumped-up charges against all political prisoners to facilitate the release of the more than 500 other political prisoners as an affirmation of previously signed agreements by both parties," Palabay said. She cited two major agreements by the GRP and the NDFP, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). 

Karapatan said the illegal arrest of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Southern Mindanao Coordinator Amelia Pond on August 19 in Cebu City is an example of the continuing legal offensives against progressives. Pond was arrested after the national assembly of RMP held at the Living the Gospel Renewal Center in Cebu. 

She was accused as "Adelfa Toledo”, an allegation vehemently denied by Pond, and was arrested based on trumped up criminal charges filed against "Adelfa Toledo" at the Nabunturan RTC Branch 3 in Compostela Valley. Two falsified identification cards were planted in Pond's bag by operatives of the Philippine National Police- Crime Investigation and Detection Group and Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines with Pond's picture and the name "Adelfa Toledo”. Her lawyers filed a petition for the writ of habeas corpus. 

"This policy and practice of filing trumped up criminal charges against social workers, religious, human rights advocates, leaders of people's organizations and consultants to the peace process has to stop. Pond should be released immediately," Palabay said.