By Roy Ramos
ZAMBODNGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) – The Philippines has released a couple accused of being leaders of the country’s communist insurgency to allow them to participate in resumed peace talks in Oslo next week.
Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, the suspected former chairman and secretary general of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), respectively, left a custodial center in police headquarters in northern Quezon City on bail Friday.
They were released ahead of negotiations set to be relaunched next week after President Rodrigo Duterte made overtures toward the CPP, its political arm the National Democratic Front (NDF), and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).
The couple was arrested in the central province of Cebu in March 2014 on charges of crimes against humanity that include murder, multiple murders and frustrated murder in connection with the discovery of a mass grave in Leyte province in 2006.
“We are overjoyed that we are free, as well as other consultants and personnel of the NDF under the JASIG [Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees],” Benito was quoted as saying by Rappler.com.
Under JASIG, NDF consultants are granted safe conduct during peace talks with the government.
A regional court granted a motion for their release on bail on conditions that they participate in peace negotiations in the Norwegian capital, remain free until peace talks end and each post a bail bond of 100,000 pesos ($2,155) to be canceled once the talks conclude.
The court also ordered that they submit all their contact numbers, and report to the Philippine Embassy in Oslo whenever necessary.
According to the Philippines military, the Tiamzons took the helm of the CPP from founder Jose Maria Sison, who has been living in self-exile in the Netherlands since 1987.
Earlier this month, the Philippines Supreme Court granted a petition filed by the presidential office for the temporary release of two other jailed communist leaders to enable them to participate in the talks.
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 won the May 9 election -- 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.