Duterte orders freed communist rebels to surrender: 'Go back to where you belong'

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President Rodrigo Duterte (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 24) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday ordered communist rebels he had freed to participate in government peace talks with the Left to go back to jail since negotiations have been terminated.

"Now I will consider the movement of the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines) as a terrorist group and I am ordering those I have released temporarily to surrender or face again punitive actions," Duterte said in a speech at Camp Tecson in San Miguel, Bulacan.

"You have to go back to where you belong. I released you because I thought it might help," Duterte said, referring to what he said were about 30 to 40 communist leaders he earlier allowed to walk free from the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.


Related: Duterte pardons 10 political prisoners

The release of political prisoners who were considered "consultants" by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) was among the conditions set for peace talks to push through. The NDFP is the political arm of the CPP which represents rebels in talks to end the communist movement's 48-year-old armed insurgency, the longest-running in Asia.

Duterte issued Proclamation 360 on Thursday, terminating peace negotiations with the NDFP.

Read more: Duterte formally ends talks with Reds

Earlier on Friday, the NDFP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) issued clashing statements on the possible re-arrest of communist consultants.

Edre Olalia, legal counsel of the NDFP, said authorities need a court order to arrest the 19 NDFP consultants who were allowed to post bail in August 2016 to participate in the talks.

"The GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) through its authorized lawyers are duty bound to file the necessary motions in court, the NDFP consultants through their lawyers are given a real opportunity to comment or oppose through a hearing, and the proper court must weigh the facts, grounds and arguments of both sides before seasonably issuing an order either way," Olalia said.

He pointed out that the government has not even sent a written notice to the NDFP to formalize the end of negotiations. He said it is only after 30 days from the receipt that the termination can take effect.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, the government's chief peace negotiator with the communists, said the government will send formal notice to the NDFP.

For the AFP however, the President's words are enough.

Duterte's proclamation "will pave the way for their rearrests because they were only released for the period of the formal talks. Pwede na po silang arestuhin uli ng ating mga law enforcement agencies (They can now be arrested again by law enforcement agencies)," AFP Sokesperson Major General Restituto Padilla said.

"They all have cases in court and they were just temporarily released for the purpose of the peace talks. Now that there are no peace talks there's no reason for them to be at large," he added.

But the NDFP said the consultants were political prisoners jailed for trumped-up charges.

Among those who walked free were Benito Tiamzon, appointed in October 2016 as NDFP peace panel member, as well as his wife Wilma. Both are facing several criminal charges including murder, after being linked to a massive communist purging in the 1980s.

However, it's unclear if the couple must also surrender and would be sent back to jail since they were detained in Camp Crame in Quezon City, not in Muntinlupa.

Read more: Tiamzon couple out on bail to attend peace talks in Norway