Release political prisoners through general amnesty, stop legal offensives against peasants

“The recent joint statement of the GRP and NDFP continues to provide hope of freedom for political prisoners, yet we still wait for that day when these releases will actually happen. We hope this will be soon enough so that they can be with their loved ones, especially those who should be released on humanitarian grounds. We remain steadfast in our call for the release for all political prisoners through general amnesty,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, in the light of the conclusion of the second round of formal peacetalks between the Duterte administration and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines on October 9, 2016. In the said joint statement, both panels referred to the releases of political prisoners. 

“We also welcome the agreement of both panels to expedite the process of presidential clemency to release three wrongly convicted NDFP consultants, Eduardo Sarmiento, Leopoldo Caloza and Emeterio Antalan. They should be able to directly participate in the third round of talks in January 2017,” Palabay said.

“We hope that the Duterte administration should also stop legal offensives, the arrest and detention based on trumped up criminal charges, against activists, suspected rebels, and farmers fighting for genuine agrarian reform,” Palabay said. 

In the three months of the Duterte administration, there were nine documented arrest and detention of peasants, peace advocates and a Lumad school teacher. Just recently, twelve farmers, three of them in their senior years, were arrested, detained and are facing trumped up charges for cultivating land that is legally theirs. 

On October 7, 2016, elements of PNP-Manapla in Negros Occidental, led by Chief Inspector Edencio Gregorio, arrested Jerry Elarde, 54, Manuel Batislaon, 43, Rolando Palomo, 55, Wooden Celes, 30, Jr Dequito, 33, Lavinia Belandres, 39, Lydia Belandres, 67, Girlie Esmedia, 49, Marlyn Jordan, 58, Nelly Gaylan, 72, Verginsita Dosa, 56, and Rodolfo Belandres, 69 - all members of Sitio Magsico, Pinanongan United People Association (SAMPUPA) – National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW). 

Now known as the “Manapla 12,” the farmers were charged by landlord Gemma Dequito with three counts of theft, two counts of qualified theft, grave oral defamation, unlawful detainer, contempt of court, and recovery of possession.

During a recent dialogue between Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael Mariano and farmworkers in Negros Occidental on September 8-9, 2016, the Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer (PARO) Teresita Mabunay issued a certificate naming the farmers, including the Manapla 12, as land reform beneficiaries of the disputed land.

The Manapla 12 are still detained at PNP Manapla station.

“We will just be going on circles – arrest and detain, then release, and arrest again - if this practice won’t stop. Legal offensives are also direct violations of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL),” Palabay said. 

The latest round of talks also tackled the outline of drafts on the framework and outline of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER). “Through the discussions on the CASER, we expect that longstanding issues such as landlessness, landgrabbing and the continuing feudal exploitation of the farmers, which are among the root causes of the armed conflict, will be addressed,” Palabay ended.