President Rodrigo Duterte has granted pardon to 10 communist rebels, most of whom had been imprisoned for more than 10 years, just days after the head of the government peace panel (GRP) announced peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF) will likely resume next month.

Labor Secretary and GRP panel head Silvestre Bello III said the latest batch of releases is part of the continuing commitment of the government to release detained rebels on humanitarian grounds.

“This is in accord with the process that will eventually lead to a general amnesty proclamation once we reach a final peace agreement with the communist rebels,” Bello said.

“We are continuing to work on the releases of the sick, elderly, those long detained and the women as the peace negotiations progress,” he added.

Among those ordered released through presidential pardon was NDF consultant Emeterio Antalan who is covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantee (JASIG).

The releases of two other JASIG-covered NDF consultants were withheld pending completion of their court documents. They are Eduardo Sarmiento and Leopoldo Caluza.

Those pardoned were convicted and serving sentence at the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa for common crimes ranging from illegal possession of firearms and explosives to homicide and murder. The NDF listed them as political offenders arrested and convicted on trumped up charges.

Lawyer Angela Librado-Trinidad, GRP supervising panel member who oversees the JASIG implementation and releases of detained rebels, said the release of the rebels is pursuant to the JASIG and PCBREP resolutions originally covering 15.

PCBREP stands for Presidential Committee on Bail, Recognizance and Parole.

She added that it was also in pursuant to joint GRP-NDF statements during 3rd and 4th round of talks held in Rome, Italy and in The Netherlands respectively.

President Duterte had also pardoned 4 convicted rebels in December. He likewise ordered the release of at 18 NDF consultants in July last year as part of confidence building measures prior to the resumption of the peace talks.

This brings the total of released NDF leaders and members to 49 since Duterte assumed the presidency.

Peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the NDF resumed in August last year in Oslo, Norway.

Aside from Antalan, who already served 9 years and six months in prison, also included in the recent batch of pardoned prisoners are Ricardo Solangon (17 yrs, 11 months), Joel Ramada (11 yrs), Apolonio Barado (15 yrs 10 mos), Generoso Rolida (13 yrs 9 mos), Manolito Matricio (18 yrs 4 mos), Josue Ungsod (18 yrs 7 mos), and Sonny Marbella (15 yrs 5mos). The period of detention of Jose Navarro and Arnulfo Boates were not available.

Three other communist rebels were listed among those for release. They are Raul Villar, Armando Vidar and Juanito Itaas.

Itaas, along with Donato Continente, was convicted for the murder of Col. James Rowe, an official of the Joint US Military Assistance Group (Jusmag) in April 1989 in Quezon City. He was allegedly a hitman of the Alex Boncayao Brigade, the erstwhile urban hit squad of the New People’s Army. ###