PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has granted conditional pardon to 10 detained consultants of the National Democratic Front (NDF), Malacañang announced on Friday ahead of the resumption of peace talks with communist rebels.
The 10 inmates were released on Thursday from the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City. They were Apolonio Barado, Arnulfo Boates, Barigueo Calara, Sonny Marbella, Manolito Matricio, Joel Ramada, Generoso Rolida, Jose Navarro, Ricardo Solangon and Emiterio Antalan.
The granting of conditional pardon came a month before the scheduled fifth round of peace negotiations between the government and the NDF, the umbrella group of communists in the country, in August.
Both parties decided to push through with the fifth round of peace talks after it was cancelled in May. The government panel had refused to participate in the talks following the rebels’ declaration of intensified offensives under a martial law regime in Mindanao.
Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, shortly after fighting erupted between government troops and the Maute terrorist group in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
On Thursday, the President said he would only permit the government peace panel to resume the dialogue if the communist rebels ceased from collecting “revolutionary tax.”
“They call it revolutionary tax. Actually, it’s extortion. That’s why we’re in a battle. We will not allow it. I refuse now to resume the talks with them until they stop extortion,” the President told reporters at Camp Bahian in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon.
“It’s plain extortion. And if they want to continue to resume the talks, one of the things that I would demand would really be that they stop the extortion activities,” he added.
Duterte first set this condition and three others in April, shortly before the fourth round of peace negotiations.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Friday echoed Duterte and said he would only support the resumption of the fifth round of peace talks between the government and the NDF only if its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), stopped the practice of any form of “extortion.”
“The President released a guidance when we were in Malaybalay [on Thursday]. He said ‘no resumption of peace talks unless the NPAs stop their extortion.’ I fully support that. I think that is very clear,” he told reporters in a text message, referring to Duterte’s visit to the 403rd Infantry Brigade in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.
On Tuesday, government peace panel chairman and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd confirmed that the peace talks would resume by the second or third week of August in Japan, as suggested by the NDF.
Bayan Muna party-list, the militant group allied with Duterte in Congress, welcomed the release of the 10 inmates it described as “political prisoners.”
“This is a positive gesture and bodes well for the continuation of the peace negotiations. We hope that the other political prisoners would also be freed soon,” said Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, vice chairman of the House Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity.
Zarate called on the President to push for the signing of a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms and a ceasefire deal between the NDF.
“We reiterate our call for the release of all political prisoners as a matter of justice and for resolution of the root causes of the five-decade old rebellion in our country. The President should give primacy to the success of the peace process,” Zarate said.
In his first year in office, President Duterte ordered the release of at least 24 jailed rebels. Of the 24, 14 are consultants of the NDF.
Last May 25, Rep. Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis party-list said the Makabayan bloc’s alliance with the Duterte administration rested heavily on the peace talks between the government and the NDF.
Makabayan groups Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela, Alliance of Concerned Teachers and Kabataan party-list groups.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI and DEMPSEY REYES