By Francis T. Wakefield
The Philippine government (GRP) peace panel is asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to expedite the process for the immediate release of a Protestant bishop who was arrested along with an alleged high-ranking rebel leader in Ozamiz City last month.
Government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III and panel members said priests and bishops of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) have been “assisting the government in its peace efforts and initiatives especially in facilitating the release of (government) captured soldiers/military officers or members of law enforcement agencies in the past.”
Bello urged the DOJ to look into the case of Bishop Carlos Morales on humanitarian ground.
Morales was held on May 12 at a military checkpoint together with alleged ranking rebel leader and National Democratic Front (NDF) consultant Rommel Salinas on humanitarian grounds.
The IFI bishop claimed he did not know Salinas who flagged him down and asked for a ride last May 12, several weeks before the cancelled 5th round of peace talks in Noordwijk, The Netherlands.
At that time, Morales told police investigators he just took pity of Salinas who was carrying several bags.
Salinas was arrested by virtue of a warrant of arrest for destructive arson, murder, frustrated murder, attempted murder and robbery.
Another prelate of the IFI (popularly known as the Aglipayan Church), Bishop Felixberto Calang has been actively participating in the GRP-NDF negotiations in Europe as an independent observer.
On several occasions, Calang served as third party facilitator in the release of government soldiers and policemen captured by rebels belonging to the New People’s Army (NPA), the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
The CPP and the NPA are two of the rebel organizations under the umbrella of the NDF.
The Philippine government and the NDF have resumed peace negotiations under the Duterte administration after these collapsed in 2011.
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