CPP: Release all political prisoners or we resume war

ROADBLOCK? A file photo of both sides at the resumption of the peace talks between the government and the NDF in August 2016 in Oslo. Photo courtesy of OPAPP

ROADBLOCK? A file photo of both sides at the resumption of the peace talks between the government and the NDF in August 2016 in Oslo.

Photo courtesy of OPAPP

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) on Friday, December 2, gave the Duterte administration until January next year to fulfill its promise to release all 432 political prisoners or risk rebel attacks.

Reacting to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III’s announcement of a plan to 50 political prisoners by the end of December, the CPP reminded the government of the “expectation” it raised in August, when both sides reopened formal talks in Oslo. The CPP is represented by its political arm, the National Democratic Front (NDF), in the peace process. 

"The planned release of a mere 40-50 political prisoners is an unacceptable token," the CPP said in a statement.

According to the party, the release of all 432 political prisoners should have happened on the last week of October.  This didn’t happen, the CPP said, adding that even the release on humanitarian grounds was “being delayed.”

The guerrillas cited the death last Monday, November 28, of peasant activist Bernie Ocasla from Eastern Visayas.

“Justice demands that all 432 remaining political prisoners be released immediately," the CPP said. "Every additional second that political prisoners remain incarcerated add to the grave injustices which they have been made to suffer throughout the years in jail."

On Friday, President Rodrigo Duterte granted pardon to 4 convicted rebels, all consultants of the NDF. Bello said this moves the peace process forward.

Ceasefire at risk

The guerrillas said they were “extending their patience and giving the Duterte regime up to the month of January to comply with its obligation to release all political prisoners.”

Otherwise, the rebels said they will have no reason to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the government. Worse, this could end the current interim ceasefire that the guerrillas had agreed to implement as a sign of good faith in the process, the CPP said. (READ: CPP to declare indefinite ceasefire – Joma Sison)

This is the strongest statement that the rebels have issued so far in relation to the peace process. 

Both parties have been hopeful that the talks would result in a bilateral ceasefire agreement before the end of the year. The first round of talks in August even tackled the prospect of granting amnesty to all political prisoners. (READ: Amnesty for NDF's prisoners, detainees)

The Duterte government has so far released at least 20 political prisoners, including alleged New People’s Army chief Benito Tiamzon, so they could participate in the talks.

But the release of the rest is taking “way too long,” the party said. "Worse, surveillance, harassments and arrests against activists persist."

The communists are allied with the Duterte administration, with Leftist leaders associated with them getting key Cabinet positions. 

The political alliance, however. has put the rebels in a difficult situation in the face of extrajudicial killings allegedly perpetrated by the police and Duterte's stand favoring the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. (READ: Luneta protesters to Duterte: End alliance with Marcos family)

The CPP is behind the longest running insurgency in Asia – 40 years. It's been involved in peace talks with all Philippine governments, post-Marcos, but the current one is the closest it has come to a possible peace deal. – Rappler.com