President Ferdinand Marcos has released a Catholic priest from prison in an apparent bid to defuse U.S. criticism of his human rights record before a visit to the United States next week.
The Rev. Edicio de la Torre, who has been in jail for over five years, was released April 11 after representations by the State Department, Congress and religious groups.
Diplomatic observers noted that Marcos was scheduled to address the annual convention of the American Newspaper Publishers Association in Honolulu on April 21. Anti-Marcos Filipino groups in the United States, already have mounted a campaign against his unofficial visit, the Philippine leader's first to the United States in 14 years.
The dissident groups, led by former senator Raul Manglapus, have written to newspapers and congressmen urging them up press for cancellation of the visit.
The Washington-based Movement for a Free Philippines, headed by Manglapus, plans to hold a "counterconvention" in a hall across from the Honolulu hotel where Marcos will speak.
Under the conditions of De la Torre's release, he will be exiled to Rome to continue his theological studies and will be under the custody of his religious order, the Society of Divine Word.
The 36-year-old cleric was arrested in December 1974 for conspiracy to commit rebellion as a result of his efforts to organize the National Democratic Front, a loose grouping of communist and noncommunist groups opposed to Marcos' martial-law rule.
Secretary of State Cyrus Vance wrote to Marcos on behalf of de la Torre after Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin had collected signatures from other members of Congress in support of the cleric's release.
Pressure also came from the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International as well as European religious groups.
Philippine and U.S. sources said the president also was expected to hold informal talks with State Department officials and Adm. Robert Long, commander of the U.s. Pacific fleet, during his five-day visit to Honolulu.