MANILA, Philippines – More than 400 political prisoners will be released in “due time,” government peace panel chairman Silvestre Bello III said yesterday.
He made the statement after 66-year-old peasant leader Bernabe Ocasla, one of the political prisoners considered for release on humanitarian grounds, passed away on Monday at Jose Reyes Hospital in Manila.
He succumbed to cardiac arrest after days in a coma.
Bello said the government would have wanted to give Ocasla his freedom before he died.
“It was a sad development,” he said. “We offer our sympathies to the family of Mr. Ocasla.”
Bello said President Duterte is determined to release political prisoners through judicial processes.
“The more than 400 political prisoners will be released in due time,” he said.
“It was unfortunate that it (Ocasla’s death) happened just as we are working for the release of the elderly, sick and long detained NDF members on humanitarian grounds,” he said.
Bello hoped the incident would not affect the peace talks with the National Democratic Front.
The release of political prisoners is a work in progress, he added.
Bello said Duterte has a strong commitment to release political prisoners.
“There will be a release of substantial number of political prisoners based on humanitarian grounds, particularly the women, sickly and senior citizens in the coming days,” he said.
However, there are legal and judicial issues that need to be addressed, he added.
This is also in accordance with the signed agreements between the government and NDF panels in Oslo, Norway during the resumption of formal talks last August.
The planned release is part of the continuing efforts to expedite and accelerate the peace negotiations and processes brokered by the Norwegian government.