The Philippines Supreme Court has granted a petition filed by the presidential office for the temporary release of two jailed communist leaders to enable them to participate in renewed peace negotiations set to begin in Oslo, Norway towards the end of August.
The talks — scheduled for Aug. 20 — aim to bring an end to a decades long guerilla war against the government. Since his landslide victory in the May 9 election, President Rodrigo Duterte has been making overtures toward the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).
In a resolution released Friday, the High Court approved the request of Solicitor General Jose Calida for provisional liberty of Randall B. Echanis, and Vicente P. Ladlad, but rejected the same plea for 11 other personalities linked to the insurgency, including Benito Tiamzon and wife Wilma, chairman and secretary-general respectively of the CPP.
Echanis and Ladlad — key officers of the National Democratic Front (NDF), the CPP’s political wing — were arrested in 2008 and 1999 respectively.
The resolution approved the release under cash bonds and explained that their liberty is only for the purpose of their attendance and participation in the formal peace negotiations and up to six months after, or as soon as the negotiations are concluded.
Previous negotiations with the CPP-NDF collapsed in 2004 after the communists withdrew from the negotiating table on account of the renewed inclusion of Sison and the NPA on the United States terrorist list.
In 2014, negotiations again failed because previous President Benigno Aquino III turned down the rebels’ demand to release detained comrades — accusing the rebels of insincerity in efforts to achieve a political settlement.
In his peace overtures, Duterte — who served as a mayor for 22 years prior to taking office — has said that he will release all political prisoners if party leaders return from exile and sit down for negotiations.
He has also offered the CPP posts in his new government to smooth the way.
Since March 1969, the NPA has been waging one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies in the country, which — according to the military — has claimed more than 3,000 lives over the past eight years.
The military estimates that the number of NPA members has dropped from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s to less than 4,000.