President Rodrigo Duterte has signed an order granting presidential pardon to four communist rebels convicted for murder and kidnapping, the chief of the government peace panel said Friday. "These rebels have long been recommended for pardon but the previous government did not sign the draft order to release them," said Labor Secretary Silvestre 'Bebot' Bello III. Bello, who also heads the government panel holding peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), said the convicted rebels have already served at least 18 years and up to 26 years. "We are giving them the justice they deserve regardless of their guilt or innocence. They deserve to be freed," Bello said. The four prisoners who will walk free anytime today or Monday at the latest were identified as Martin Villanueva, Bonifacio Suyon, Dindo Absalon and Rico Bodina. All of them are farmers. Villanueva and Suyom were convicted for kidnapping while Absalon and Bodino served time for murder. He said former President Benigno Aquino sat on the recommendation of the PCBREP over the release of Villanueva and company. Bello likewise revealed that three more suspected communist rebels serving time but awaiting final entry of judgment are also due for release pending legal requirements from the courts. "They cannot avail themselves of a presidential pardon or executive clemency while their appeals are pending and awaiting final entry of judgment," Bello explained. But he said a draft order is already prepared for their pardon pending submission of their completed case folders. As this developed, the government peace panel also revealed that the names of 200 detained rebels were already submitted for review and approval by appropriate government agencies. "But we have recommended the immediate release of 21 sickly detainees, three other elderly suspected rebels and one woman detainee," said Bello, a former human rights lawyer. He explained that the releases take time because the old guidelines of the Presidential Committee on Bail, Recognizance, and Pardon (PCBREP) needed to be amended. The old PCBREP guidelines only allowed releases on bail, recognizance or pardon for offenses committed on or before 1998, which would not cover those detained during the Arroyo and PNoy administration. Under the new guidelines, all offenses committed as of July 1, 2016 are now covered by the PCBREP guidelines. Bello said the release of the four pardoned detainees is part of the continuing commitment of President Duterte to free detained communist rebels. To date, there are 434 NDF members being held in various detention centers throughout the country.
Source: Philippine Information Agency