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Youth groups press gov’t: Free political prisoners

By Julius Leonen

Members of the youth sector trooped to the Department of Justice (DoJ) yesterday morning to call for the release of more than 430 political prisoners, insisting that the Duterte administration had committed their release during peace talks with communist rebels.
Over the holiday break, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II endorsed to President Rodrigo Duterte 134 elderly and sickly inmates for executive clemency on humanitarian grounds. Aguirre however said he does not know whether or not political prisoners were included in the endorsement.
In a statement, Anakbayan national chairman Vencer Crisostomo slammed the Duterte administration for failing to fulfill its commitment to release a substantial number of political prisoners before New Year’s Day.
“We are disappointed with the way President Duterte is treating political prisoners as trump cards used to threaten revolutionary forces into surrendering,” Crisostomo said.
“Political prisoners are not chips to be exchanged in political maneuvers but real people unjustly arrested based on their political principles,” he said.
Crisostomo said that the administration’s failure to release political prisoners before the New Year “is a sign of insincerity that belies Duterte’s willingness to fulfill commitments made during the peace talks.”
Crisostomo added that it also puts into question the administration’s “readiness to ensure respect for human rights and push radical socio-economic reforms to answer the systemic roots of armed conflict.”
So far, President Duterte had only released 21 political prisoners, including communist leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon.
The President said that the freed political prisoners will serve as consultants in peace talks between the government and the communist rebels.
Meanwhile, student journalists under the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) scored the Duterte administration for its “delaying tactics” in releasing political prisoners.
CEGP national president Jose Mari Callueng accused President Duterte of using political prisoners as leverage to get the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to agree to a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
President Duterte said last December that he was not willing to agree to a mass release of political prisoners. The President said that he has yet to see a substantive progress in peace talks with communist rebels.
“Since October last year, the government continued to delay the release of political detainees and even rejected the plea to free 130 ailing and elderly,” Callueng said.
“It is appalling that political prisoners are treated as trump cards and hostages by the government to forward its ceasefire agenda,” he said.

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