Filipino Youth for Peace

Young Filipinos opposed to the US war on Iraq

Release of Political Prisoners: A Promise Long Overdue

By Bulatlat.com

Sana hindi mapako. This is the response of human rights groups and relatives of political prisoners to the government promise to release 32 political prisoners within a month starting April 5. The phrase is from the Filipino colloquial term “pangakong napapako” which means a broken promise.

Girlie Padilla, 33, has been a volunteer for human rights groups since 2000, when Joseph Estrada was still president. She said human rights groups had submitted to Estrada a list of political prisoners whom he promised to release. When Estrada was ousted three years into his term, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed power and she too promised to release political prisoners. Twenty-three of those she promised to set free however remain behind bars to this day.

This time, the list that the government promises to release contains 32 names. Among them are seven women including a nursing mother, Zenaida Llesis, who is now held at the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) office in Quezon City. Llesis, who was picked up and detained in Bukidnon more than a year ago, was allowed to nurse her ailing baby girl who was hospitalized in February for heart ailment.

Others are 10 minors and six sick and/or elderly.

Under the Oslo Joint Statement signed by the GRP and NDFP peace panels just last April 3, the Macapagal-Arroyo government agreed to pursue its commitment to release 32 political prisoners. The GRP and NDFP peace panels met in Oslo late March, more than a month after the resumption of the talks early February.

With this, political prisoners, who number 310 nationwide, lifted April 7 their one-week nationwide protest fasting and hunger strike. Human rights groups and their relatives on the other hand launched their 30-day countdown for the political prisoners� release in a press conference on the same day.

Weary but hopeful

But Padilla, although hopeful that something concrete would come out this time because of the formal talks between the government and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), expressed fear because the promised release “has remained a press release so far.”

“We are happy with the developments, especially with the possibility of release of political prisoners. But at the same time, we are sad because many of those who have been promised their freedom in 2001 are not included in the list, including Donato Continente,” added Padilla, who is with the human rights group Karapatan or Alliance for the Advancement of People�s Rights.

Padilla, who has seen the hopes of political prisoners and their relatives rise in elation and be crushed in frustration under Estrada and the early months of Macapagal-Arroyo, said that she and other human rights activists are working hard to prepare whatever documents are needed to process the release.

“Hindi kami titigil sa pagsuporta sa kanila, kahit tumigil na ang hunger strike. Magpapatuloy ang pagkilos namin para mapilitan ang gobyernong tuparin ang pangako nila” (We will continue supporting the political prisoners even as they have lifted their hunger strike. We will pursue actions that will pressure the government to fulfill their promise), she said.

Not included

Mila Continente, mother of Donato Continente, alleged killer of American Col. James Rowe, lamented how her son has been excluded from the list. Convicted for the killing of a special counter-insurgency specialist, Col. James Rowe in the late 1980s, Continente had finished serving his minimum sentence two years ago. His release, however, has been consistently blocked by the U.S. government.

Also not included were the six farmers from Mamburao, Mindoro Occidental charged with murder of the Quintos brothers who belong to a politically influential family in the province.

Nanay Mila and Shirley Llesis, mother of Zenaida, both appealed to the president to honor her commitment.

The teary-eyed mother of Continente, who suffered a stroke last year, said, “Ang pangarap ko, bawian man ako ni Lord ng buhay, makalaya lang po ang anak ko itong taon na ito” (My wish is for my son to regain his freedom this year, even if the Lord takes me).

National security adviser

The release of the PPs is however threatened by renewed attempts by hardliners and military authorities in government to scuttle the peace talks. Last Monday, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales moved to disqualify from the Party-list elections Bayan Muna and five other groups for being “front organizations” of the CPP-NPA-NDFP. He also accused them with diverting millions of countrywide development funds to the clandestine organizations.

In a statement on April 5, Fidel V. Agcaoili, a member of the NDFP negotiating panel, denounced Gonzales� accusations as a “green light” by Macapagal-Arroyo for the AFP and national police “to intensify their attacks and human rights violations against the six progressive party lists, and to intimidate the people from supporting them.”

Agacoili, who also co-chairs the Joint Monitoring Committee, said that if government cannot respect the rights of progressive Party-list groups guaranteed by its own constitution and election laws, “how can it uphold and promote human rights and international humanitarian law?”

Thirty-eight Bayan Muna leaders and members have been killed under the Macapagal-Arroyo government. The Party-list group and human rights organizations have condemned the government for the attacks.

Bayan Muna topped the Party-list elections in May 2001 with three seats in Congress. The six Party-list groups accused by Gonzales are also faring well in election surveys, with Bayan Muna leading.

Teddy Casi�o, a Bayan Muna nominee and former Bayan secretary general, said Gonzales was engaged in sour grapes considering that his own group, the “social democrat” Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas, lost in the 1998 and 2001 elections.

Indemnification

In the April 3 Oslo Joint Statement, the government also pledged to set aside at least PhP8 billion from the millions of dollars in Marcos hidden wealth now held in escrow by the Philippine National Bank for the indemnification of 10,000 torture victims during the dictatorship. For the amount to be released, the government will work for the passage of a bill that provides for the compensation of martial law victims.

With regards the outstanding issue on the “terrorist listing” of the CPP, NPA and NDFP Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison, no categorical commitment was made by the government panel to work for their effective delisting. It only agreed, together with the NDFP, “to undertake an information campaign…(focusing) on the fundamental principles enshrined in subsisting agreements of the parties.”

The two panels also called on all foreign governments “to refrain from any action that may impede or impair the peace process.”

In addition, the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) will be formed this April. The JMC will monitor the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). Some members of the JMC held their first meeting in Oslo on April 1.

The JMC members, on the GRP side, are: Prof. Carlos P. Medina, Jr., Co-Chairperson; and lawyers Edgardo B. Gayos and Robert L. Larga. On the NDFP side: Fidel V. Agcaoili, Co-Chairperson; Coni K. Ledesma and Danilo F. Borjal. Sitting as NDFP- nominated independent observers are Supreme Bishop Tomas A. Millamena and Marie Hilao-Enriquez. The two GRP-nominated observers, Mercedes Contreras Danenberg and Mary Aileen Bacalso, were not present.

The two panels also agreed to convene for a joint meeting in this coming May their sub-committees for phase two of the peace talks, Economic Sovereignty and National Patrimony and National Industrialization and Economic Development.

Subsequently, the two parties� Reciprocal Working Committees for Social and Economic Reforms (RCWs-SER) will meet in June this year either in Beijing, Hanoi or Hong Kong.

Leading the GRP panel was former Justice Secretary Silvestre Bello III with Luis Jalandoni for the NDFP side. They are set to meet again end of this month, in a foreign neutral venue.

The latest Oslo talks was witnessed by Tore Hattrem of the Norwegian government which serves as Third Party Facilitator.

Delegations

The GRP delegation was headed by Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. Aside from Bello III, in the delegation were Undersecretary Jose Luis Martin Gascon, lawyer Rene V. Sarmiento and Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel; Panel Adviser Edgardo Pamintuan and Panel Consultant Gov. Luis Chavit Singson; RWC-SER Members: Rebecca Ta�ada, Atty. Sedfrey M. Candelaria and Assistant Secretary Ma. Cleofe Gettie C. Sandoval; JMC Members Atty. Carlos P. Medina Jr., Atty. Robert L. Larga and Atty. Edgardo B. Gayos; Executive Director and Panel Secretariat Head Ma. Carla Munsayac-Villarta; Secretariat Staff Coordinator for SER Oscar B. Bathan and Secretariat Staff Coordinator for JMC Fe A. Oaing.

The NDFP delegation included Jalandoni as chairperson of the NDFP Negotiating Panel and Fidel V. Agcaoili, Julieta de Lima, Coni Ledesma and Asterio Palima as members of the NDFP Negotiating Panel; Prof. Jose Maria Sison, Chief Political Consultant; UN Ad Litem Judge Romeo T. Capulong; Senior Legal Consultant of the NDFP Negotiating Panel; Jose Danilo Borjal and Rey Claro Casambre, Consultants of the Panel; Atty. Jayson Lamchek, Special Legal Consultant on the Issue of Terrorism; Ruth de Leon, Head of the Secretariat; Atty. Marie F. Yuvienco, Legal Consultant on Social and Economic Reforms; Rafael Baylosis and Randall Echanis, members of the Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms; and Vivian de Lima, Economics Consultant, Lualhati Roque and Alvin Firmeza, staff and researchers; Atty. Edre U. Olalia, Legal Consultant for the JMC; Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Independent Observer in the JMC.

Iglesia Filipina Independiente Supreme Bishop Tomas A. Millamena attended as Third Party Depositary and Independent Observer in the JMC. Bulatlat.com

Also posted on QC Indymedia