On the wall in their cell Calamba, Laguna, a big sign reads, “WE ARE ON INDEFINITE FASTING. The “Tagaytay 5” started fasting in protest against what they say is “miscarriage of justice in various forms and levels” and the “cruel” treatment of political detainees under the Arroyo government.
BY DENNIS ESPADA
CALAMBA CITY, Laguna – Protest actions against tyranny reverberate not only in the streets but also in prisons.
On the wall in their cell at the temporary holding center of the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s Camp Vicente Lim in this city, 52 kms south of Manila, a big sign reads, “WE ARE ON INDEFINITE FASTING.”
The “Tagaytay 5” – Axel Alejandro Pinpin, Riel Custodio, Aristedes Sarmiento, Enrico Ybañez, and Michael Masayes – began fasting Feb. 20 to denounce what they say is “miscarriage of justice in various forms and levels” and the “cruel” treatment of political detainees like them under the Arroyo regime.
“[We] are launching our prison protest so that justice and truth may reign, freedom is regained, and prisoners’ rights respected,” they said in a statement issued on the first day of their fasting.
Day after day since Feb. 20, Pinpin, Sarmiento, and Custodio have been eating only one full meal (with one cup of rice) and soda crackers. For health reasons, however, Masayes and Ybañez are taking two full meals (two cups of rice). The five said their fasting would gradually escalate into a full-blown hunger strike by April 8 or beyond “if they see no development in their case and situation.”
Laura Sarmiento, wife of one of the detainees, told Bulatlat that a scheduled hearing at the Tagaytay Regional Trial Court Branch 18 on Feb. 21 was reset due to the judge’s absence. Despite the postponement, some 100 supporters staged a rally in front of Camp Vicente Lim with a number of them skipping meals.
Held more than 300 days now inside a cramp, 25-square-meter jail, the five were seized in Tagaytay City last year and accused of being New People’s Army (NPA) rebels by the PNP-Calabarzon (provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) and the Department of Justice (DoJ). At press time, the prosecution has failed to present credible evidence linking them to a so-called anti-government “destabilization plot” early 2006.
On the contrary, the detainees argued they are agriculturists, peasant advocates, and ordinary citizens – accusing the PNP of forcible abduction, arrest without warrant, interrogation without counsel, incommunicado detention, torture and robbery-holdup.
The five said they are continuously deprived of their right to sunning, adequate medical care and a visitor’s area, which was recommended by no less than Commission on Human Rights (CHR) official Wilhelm Soriano. They recalled that senators and congressmen were made to talk to them standing behind the steel bars.
“Even the joy of walking a reasonable distance daily was denied to us because, as the PNP black propaganda goes, the Tagaytay 5 are ‘high-risk and high-profile detainees’ and that the detention center in Canlubang is not a regular detention facility but just a temporary ‘holding center,’” they lamented.
Hungry for other’s sake
The Tagaytay 5 said they are also doing this in solidarity with fellow political detainees, namely: Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Rep. Crispin Beltran, alleged NPA leader Eduardo “Edik” Serrano, the “Mamburao 6” (peasant leaders from Occidental Mindoro who were “wrongfully convicted”), the Magdalo soldiers; and all those who have been summarily executed, extra-judicially killed and involuntarily disappeared “for they shall never have their day in court and will never be able to tell their tales of horror.”
Although their relatives objected to their plan of fasting, the five said that undertaking such sacrifice could send a strong message to the powers-that-be, as well as the international community.
“Our fast is also our manner of commemorating and reliving the spirit of Edsa 1986, which delivered our country from state terrorism and fascist dictatorship only to be revived 20 years later under the current regime,” they said. “Indeed, fascism and terrorism never left our country with Marcos.”