LEFTIST lawmakers on Wednesday took exception to the President’s remark that the Reds will “die” for him, but confirmed that they won’t break their alliance with the Duterte administration amid an impasse over the release of detained communist rebels and the burial of ex-strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
The Makabayan bloc said the 434 detained rebels, including 130 old and sick prisoners, should not be used by the President as leverage in ongoing peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
“This is a matter of justice because they were detained with planted evidence and with no bail. They should be released on humanitarian grounds. We’re not ready to die for the President, pero handa kaming i-alay ang aming buhay para sa mga naaapi [but we are willing to lay our lives for those who are oppressed],” said Rep. Antonio Tinio of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers.
The Makabayan bloc said it won’t sever ties with President Duterte and that the alliance stood on solid ground, because the administration was committed to hammering out a peace agreement with the NDF.
“The peace talks are still on in spite of these concerns along the way. In fact, there is another round [of talks]in Italy come January 2017…so that’s where our alliance is based upon,” Tinio said.
Rep. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, vice chairman of the House Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, backed up Tinio.
“For the past 15 years, the peace talks between the two parties have been stalled. Since CARHRIHL was signed [during the Ramos administration], nothing substantial happened, until now. Now, for the first six months, there is already a second round of talks for the socioeconomic reforms pact,” Zarate said.
CARHRIHL is the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.
Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao told reporters, “The issue of political prisoners’ release should not get in the way of drafting a peace agreement.”
“The 130 political prisoners are incapable of armed struggle anymore and they were detained because of trumped-up charges. Actually, all 400 of them were wrongfully charged, and that’s why we are still calling for their unconditional release,” he said.
‘Conceded too much, too soon’
On Tuesday night in Cambodia, Duterte reiterated that communist rebels must sign a bilateral ceasefire deal before their detained comrades are released by the government.
Speaking before Filipinos in Phnom Penh, Duterte stressed that he had made a lot of concessions to the NDF.
“You bring me a document which says that there is, or there would be ceasefire. Do not put a timeline. Then i-release ko `yan pag nakuha ko. Ayan ang usapan [Then I will release the prisoners. That’s the deal],” Duterte said.
“I have conceded too much, even too soon. Nandiyan na `yung mga malalaking leaders nila, Tiamzon [Their main leaders have been released, Tiamzon],” he added.
Duterte was referring to top rebel leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon whom he met Friday in Davao City, where he supposedly said he would “keep his campaign promise to release detained communist rebels.”
At least 19 political prisoners, including the Tiamzon couple, have so far been released, including rebel leaders who joined the peace talks that formally started in August.
Duterte said he would release a number of elderly and sick detainees before Christmas.
But the President added: “Sabi ko dahan-dahan i-release ko, mawala `yung baraha ko. Hanggang maubusan ako, wala na akong pang-negotiate [I said I will release them gradually, because I might run out of cards. I will have nothing to negotiate over].”
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella justified Duterte’s position, saying “what he wants is a mutual…a bilateral agreement.”
In place are unilateral ceasefire declarations announced by both sides in August as peace talks went underway in Oslo, Norway.
The Palace has prepared a draft amnesty proclamation containing the names of detained leaders and alleged members of communist groups.
Abella said he was hopeful the issue on the release of political prisoners would be “resolved before Christmas.”