Free all political prisoners, resume the peacetalks! - Karapatan

Karapatan decried the most recent suspension of the formal peacetalks by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines as “yet another indication of the Duterte regime’s disinterest in pursuing and committing to reforms that should benefit the Filipino people and in meeting its obligations to release political prisoners and other human rights commitments.”

In a protest action at the Department of Justice today, the human rights group together with relatives of political prisoners and members of people’s organizations questioned claims of the GRP that its reason for halting the formal talks is to “engage the public.”

“The public, most especially the peasants, workers, urban poor, indigenous peoples, women, youth, human rights workers and peace advocates are clamoring for the resumption of the formal peacetalks so that the agreement on social and economic reforms, which addresses the issues of landlessness, landgrabbing, low wages, dismal social services, among others, can be addressed. They are also insisting that it is the GRP’s obligation to release political prisoners through general amnesty, as those detained on false charges for their activism and political beliefs are from the ranks of the poor,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay. 

These issues, an agreement on social and economic reforms and the amnesty proclamation for all political prisoners along with a coordinated unilateral ceasefire of both parties, are the components of an initialed interim peace agreement (IPA), a product of the four backchannel meetings of both partiessince March 2018. In the Timetable of the Guidelines and Procedures towards an Interim Peace Agreement and the Resumption of Talks, initialed by representatives of the GRP and NDFP, the said IPA was supposed to be signed during the June 28-30 resumption of the formal talks. 

“The Duterte regime’s numerous alibis on the unilateral suspension of the said talks are nothing but flimsy excuses for its real intent - to pursue its militarist and fascist campaigns against the Filipino people as its solution to resolving the armed conflict,” Palabay said.  

“In truth, Duterte and his cohorts wanted to deny the more than 503 political prisoners their freedom from incarceration. They wanted to perpetuate the practice of illegally arresting political dissenters, activists and development workers based on trumped up charges through defective warrants, planted evidence, paid or coerced witnesses, and other maneuvers. The Department of Justice, in cahoots with the police and military, has been churning out such false charges more frequently when the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA) was formed in October 2017,” she added. 

In a statement, political prisoners in Camp Bagong Diwa, including detained NDFP consultants Rafael Baylosis and Ferdinand Castillo, expressed dismay on the recent suspension. “It shows the insincerity of the Duterte government in the peace negotiations, wherein the roots of the armed conflict are tackled,” they stated. 

“In the first place, our continuing detention is unjust. We were charged with fabricated criminal cases, which are non-bailable and we experienced varied forms of torture. State agents continue to harass our families. While in prison, our health conditions deteriorate,” the political prisoners said. 

“However, together with the more than 500 political prisoners in the country, especially the elderly, sickly, women and those long-detained among us, we remain hopeful that we will be released through a general and unconditional amnesty and through other means that will be enabled by the people’s movement,” they asserted.

In said protest action, Karapatan reiterated its demand for the release of all political prisoners and the resumption of the peacetalks. “Together with numerous peace and human rights advocates and the Filipino people, we remain steadfast in the struggle for just and lasting peace in the Philippines,” Palabay concluded.

For reference: Cristina Palabay, Secretary General, 09173162831

Karapatan Public Information Desk, 09189790580