Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. V, No. 36      October 16 - 22, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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Camp Bagong Diwa Likened to Auswichtz
Muslim detainees appeal for humane treatment   

In a privilege speech Oct. 4, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Liza Maza called Camp Bagong Diwa Detention Center as the Philippines’ version of Auswichtz.  Auswichtz was the infamous German concentration camp that housed Jews rounded up during World War II.  Jews then suffered under inhumane prison conditions, were made to do hard labor, and the weak were sent to gas chambers. 

By May Vargas
Posted by Bulatlat

On Oct. 5, the start of this years' holy month of Ramadhan, Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza delivered a privilege speech in the House of Representatives calling Camp Bagong Diwa Detention Center as the Philippines ' very own, "Auswichtz” where Filipino Muslims are detained under appalling conditions.


Testimonies of the detainees themselves as well their families and relatives about the unjust and discriminatory policy imposed in the detention center have reached the office of the woman legislator after the August 2005 International Solidarity Mission (ISM).  A team from the ISM conducted a jail visit to gather testimonies and validate the findings of previous fact finding reports.      

Prisoners wave a white flag during the police assault on Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig that killed more than 20 inmates, most of them unarmed.


Inhumane prison conditions  


The detainees complained that they are made to sleep on cardboards in a 3x4-meter prison cell without any ventilation and lighting. The sink and toilet bowl are also cramped in the small cell. Their privilege to cook their own food and walk under the sun was removed after the March 15 siege. In addition, their food ration (of rice-dried fish-puso ng saging) comes only twice a day, causing their poor health.


They have also been deprived of proper and timely medical attention. Asthma, tuberculosis, beri-beri, diabetes, cataract, hepatitis and other diseases are common among the detainees. On top of these, three are reportedly in need of urgent treatment and surgery.   


According to the Free Basilan 73 (FB 73), an organization of detainees and their families, "Ustadz Bashir Majiril is suffering from advanced tuberculosis and acute diabetes which makes him virtually blind. Muktar Ahalul, who was hit during the March siege, has a shrapnel still embedded in his left eyelid. Marvin Uyag, also a survivor of the siege, is suffering from excruciating pain because of the nine shrapnels in his body.  Doctors have long recommended immediate treatment and operation for all three of them." 




In an urgent appeal submitted by the FB 73 to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and to the Office of Chief Justice Hilario Davide on Sept. 30 this year, the detainees complained that their situation has gravely worsened after the March 15 Bicutan siege.


An excerpt from Representative Maza's speech echoes this concern: "Mr. Speaker, that such inhumane treatment, such physical and mental ordeal the Moro prisoners are forced to endure are a punishment for the jailbreak attempt of some Abu Sayyaf members last March 14, 2005. But let me remind this House that such action is not only unjust but unjustified."


In the same speech, Maza also said, "Police had put then the number of jailbreak instigators to some identified seven Abu Sayyaf members.   The PNP assault of the prison killed 22 inmates, including those who were themselves held hostage by the ASG.  Among those killed were members of the human rights groups Moro-Christian Peoples Alliance and Free Basilan 73 Committee."


Meanwhile, the CHR responded to the detainees' appeal by sending one of its representatives, Dr. Renate Basas, to conduct an unannounced preliminary investigation. However, he was denied entry to the facility.       


Religious persecution?


The detainees' appeal also highlighted cultural insensitivity and discrimination. The detainees said "community praying especially on Fridays and during Ramadan" which is an essential part of their faith, has been banned.  Conservative Moro women on the one hand are subjected to a "shameful" strip search.


Deploring this policy, the congresswoman said, "I wonder Mr. Speaker what have happened to the metal detectors issued to jail guards precisely for that purpose. Mr. Speaker, such humiliation is doubly outrageous when we speak that the subjects here are Muslim sisters whose social norms and religious beliefs require them to always put cover on their body parts as a matter of decency."


The Moro-Christian Peoples Alliance (MCPA), an organization working for Moro-Christian unity and the Moro people’s rights, together with Karapatan (or the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), and defense lawyer Pura Calleja, denounced the deplorable conditions of the detainees.   


Ren Jallaludin Ropeta, MCPA Vice Chairperson said: "Muslims they may be but they are not hardened criminals. They have not been convicted yet and the majority are in fact mere victims of illegal arrest and torture. They were detained initially without any charges until the PNP made something up to pin them down. Despite this, our brothers are treated worse than animals."   


Ropeta said proof to his claim was the recent release of Muhamadiya Hamja who was charged by the Department of Justice with 52 counts of kidnapping in the Dos Palmas kidnapping case. Hamja was however released in June this year after Pasig Regional trial Court Judge Carpio cleared him of all charges.


Hamja said, "Many of my Muslim brethren who are still in jail are innocent like me. There were more than 100 of us who were arrested without warrant in Lamitan Basilan in July 2001. We were tortured by our captors and forced to admit we are ASG men (members of the Abu Sayaff Group). I was detained for almost 4 years for a crime I did not commit. I thought my life would end during the siege like the 22 inmates who died without justice. Four years of my life wasted away in jail, away from my family."


His son Muhammad Hamja, a volunteer for the FB73, migrated to Manila after the 2001 Basilan siege to be able to be with his father as often as possible and assist in the legal defense of his father and other detainees.


He laments, "It is sad and infuriating to think that our being Muslims makes us criminals in the eyes of the government. Our dignity is trampled upon and even our most humble human sense is being bastardized."             


Restoration of basic rights


The detainees stressed that their demands should not be taken as simply limited to the Ramadhan season.   "More than a special request for a special occasion, what we are asking for is the restoration of our basic and inalienable rights.  Yes, we are prisoners but our being one does not make us less human."  


The appeal was signed by the 129 Muslim detainees, the total number of Muslims currently detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Metro Manila. Posted by Bulatlat  




© 2005 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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