MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday, December 11, maintained he would not agree to the release of 130 political prisoners until the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) have hammered out a deal.
Duterte spoke about the peace talks with the communists as he continued his tour of military camps on Sunday, visiting Camp Servillano Aquino in Tarlac City.
The President delivered a 10-minute speech to soldiers from the Northern Luzon Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
"Gusto nila 130 na naman ang i-release ko. Sabi ko, 'No, I cannot.' As a matter of fact, I conceded too much, too soon. Sabi ko, 'Hanggang diyan lang ako.' Ngayon bahala na kung terminate it eh di terminate it... Nandiyan, ipinalabas ko na 'yung mga lider ninyo, lahat na, nandoon na nga sa Norway [for the peace talks] eh. What more do you ask of us? Maubusan ako ng baraha niyan kung release ako ng release," he said.
(They want me to release 130 more political prisoners. I told them, "No, I cannot." As a matter of fact, I conceded too much, too soon. I said, "That's my limit." Now, if it the talks are terminated, then whatever... But their leaders have already been released, they even went to Norway [for the peace talks] already. What more do you ask of us? I won't have cards up my sleeve anymore if I keep approving the release of political prisoners.)
But Duterte reiterated the need to end the decades-long conflict, and appealed for understanding from the troops.
"We have to somehow end this war. This has been going on for 45 years," he said.
"'Yung iba na matagal na sa serbisyo, alam ko masakit sa inyo 'yan (Those who have been in service for a long time, I know this process is painful for you). But you have to understand me and the rest of the Filipino people… I am not a communist. I am just a Filipino, period. I am just doing it for the sake of my country."
The AFP and the CPP's New People's Army (NPA) had previously declared unilateral ceasefires. The two sides, however, have yet to reach a bilateral ceasefire agreement after they missed an October 26 deadline.
The President, meanwhile, also thanked the soldiers for their service.
"I know happy ang [mga] Filipino sa inyo (I know the Filipino people are happy with your performance). I'm more than satisfied with your performance," Duterte said.
"I congratulate you for a job well done," he later added.