Joma Sison says gov't broke promise to free political prisoners last Christmas

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The communist leader says he also agreed to meet with President Rodrigo Duterte in Hanoi, Vietnam but only after the approval of the Interim Peace Agreement. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 17) — Communist leader Jose Maria Sison has revealed that the government agreed last year to release "sick and elderly" political prisoners for Christmas and New Year.

In a video statement sent to a forum in Quezon City on Friday, Sison, who is on self-exile in the Netherlands, said Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and former congressman Hernani Braganza held informal talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in Utrecht from December 7 to 9 and December 19 to 21, 2019. The NDFP represents the Communist Party of the Philippines in talks with the government.

Among the agreements reached during the informal talks, Sison said, was "the soonest release by the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) president of the sick and elderly political prisoners, especially the NDFP consultants, on humanitarian grounds and in the spirit of Christmas and the New Year."

"It should be noted that not a single political prisoner was released on humanitarian grounds in the spirit of Christmas and the New Year, contrary to expectations of the NDFP Negotiating Panel, the political prisoners and their families," Sison said.

PNP: Arrest warrant vs Joma Sison stands despite fresh peace talks

The release of political prisoners and NDFP consultants has always been a sore point in negotiations to end the five-decade insurgency of the CPP and its armed wing, the New People's Army. The rebels claim the NDFP consultants were being held in violation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees — an agreement the government says no longer holds water since President Rodrigo Duterte walked away from the peace talks in 2017.

After allegations of ceasefire violations and back-and-forth tirades, Duterte finally reached out to the rebels again in December 2019 by sending Bello to talk to Sison.

Sison said that during their informal talks he also agreed to meet Duterte in Hanoi, Vietnam in April, but only after the signing of the Interim Peace Agreement, a much sought-after deal seen to lead to the end of the communist insurgency. The agreement covers general amnesty and release of all political prisoners, approval of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social Economic Reforms, and a coordinated unilateral ceasefire agreement.

Duterte on December 26, 2019 challenged Sison to a one-on-one talk in the Philippines but the CPP founding chairman said he would return to the country only after the resumption of formal peace negotiations and the signing of the Interim Peace Agreement.

Sison said Bello also agreed with the NDF to hold another informal meeting on the second or third week of January 2020 to pave the way for the much-awaited resumption of formal peace negotiations. The goal is to reaffirm previous deals, supersede presidential orders against the peace negotiations, and set the agenda for finalizing the Interim Peace Agreement.

So far, the only thing that has reached fruition among the agreements in the formal talks was the declaration of a holiday ceasefire, Sison said. However, this too, was marred by alleged violations.

Authorities said NPA fighters attacked government forces in Camarines Norte and Iloilo on December 23, 2019, leaving one soldier dead and six others wounded on the first day of the ceasefire. The NDF, however, said the rebels just defended themselves from attacks initiated by the police and military.

"On the whole, on a nationwide scale, the reciprocal unilateral ceasefire ran successfully from December 23, 2019 to January 7, 2020, despite a few incidents which became the subject of publicized complaints from the direction of the GRP and NDFP. These complaints ought to be submitted to the Joint Monitoring Committee under the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law," Sison said.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process on Friday hit the CPP-NPA-NDF for pursuing its “own brand of peace talks” in insisting on the Comprehensive Agreement on Social Economic Reforms as a precondition to the negotiations. OPAPP Spokesperson Wilben Mayor stressed that what the rebels want was "flawed," and that talks should adhere to the Constitution.

On the other hand, Bello earlier suggested that the signing of these reform and peace agreements can be done in the country.

"We want that when he comes here, he will be prepared to sign a document – either the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, or better, the IPA, which is the Interim Peace Agreement. That would be the best reason for him to come here," Bello said in an interview with CNN Philippines' The Source on January 3.