Political prisoners, notably the National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultants are being released in line with the peace talks. This marks the first time in 15 years that peace consultants are being released, though temporarily, to enable them to participate in the talks.
Now before anyone starts screaming that the Duterte government is releasing these “bad, Communist criminals”, it is necessary to point out why the Tiamzons et al are actually in jail. Why are they even considered political prisoners?
Are they in jail because they’re members of the Communist Party of the Philippines? Not really. You cannot go to jail simply by being a member of the CPP. That by itself is not a crime.
They are in jail because they’ve been slapped with trumped-up charges, the kind which can keep you in jail indefinitely because these alleged crimes are non-bailable. Of course these false charges are being filed in light of their political beliefs. A lot of the charges are based on planted evidence and false witnesses employed by the military. Take the case of Tirso Alcantara who faces 46 charges in different courts because it appears that all activities of the NPA have been blamed on him. Planting evidence and employing false witnesses and fabricating charges is not right and must not be tolerated by government. Alas, these practices have been so rampant during the regime of Arroyo and Aquino because they weren’t interested in pursuing peace talks with the NDFP.
They are political prisoners because the charges against them are in line with their political beliefs, even if the charges are false and are considered common crimes.
But aren’t they armed or are waging armed struggle against the government? Perhaps. It is another thing though if they were actually armed during their arrests because in most cases they weren’t, that’s why state agents had to plant evidence. But even assuming they were armed, isn’t that reason to arrest them? Well there is an existing agreement that prevents the government from arresting known NDFP peace consultants, or those with proper identification or those who enjoy protection under the said agreement. The NDFP consultants can’t be charged with common crimes and should be immune from arrest, harassment and surveillance according to the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees. This pact would allow them to participate in peace talks to address the root causes of the armed conflict. It is only at the conclusion of the peace talks that the laying down of arms will take place.
In the case of Ed Serrano, he was detained for 11 years, and was simply awaiting the dismissal of his remaining cases when he fell ill and died in a hospital, unable to gain his freedom. That’s how bad the trumped-up charges are. There is a fundamental question of justice when we demand the release of political prisoners, including the NDFP consultants. It is a statement that their arrest and detention were unjust to begin with.
The Duterte government is right in committing to the release of the NDFP consultants in accordance with the JASIG and in the spirit of reviving the stalled peace talks. Of course if you ask the families of the detained, they would have preferred that the false charges were dropped altogether because that it what real justice requires. It should be noted though that the NDFP consultants are only gaining temporary liberty upon orders of the courts, so that they could participate in the peace talks. The false charges against them remain. They would still need to fight those.
There would be some cause to celebrate the release of political prisoners before the start of the peace talks. That would be a significant development indeed. We should be reminded however that there are more than 500 political prisoners who need to be freed. Our work is far from done.
So when someone complains why political prisoners are being released, let us explain that they are not criminals, that many of them are principled revolutionaries who were incarcerated based on false charges. They did not steal nor oppress the poor. They are not criminals in the mold of past Philippine presidents, or of the big criminal syndicates. They deserve to be released and allowed to continue their work in the peace talks. (Photo by Kristine Mangunay, PDI)