Even without martial law, the Macapagal-Arroyo government has arrested and detained hundreds of activists. Worse, most political prisoners have been slapped with trumped-up criminal charges.
BY RONALYN V. OLEA
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Human rights group Karapatan’s (Alliance for the Advancement of Human Rights) records show that there are 218 political prisoners in the country as of this month. Of this, 191 were arrested during the Macapagal-Arroyo government.
Not included in the figure are seven political prisoners who have been recently freed – Pastor Berlin Guerrero, Tagaytay 5 and Antonio Cano.
The Tagaytay 5 were Axel Pinpin, Ariel Custodio, Aristedes Sarmiento, Enrico Ybañez, and Michael Masayes.
Cano, meanwhile, was released after serving a five-year sentence for violation of the gun ban.
Donato Continente, spokesperson of Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Para sa Amnestiya (SELDA) said that while they are happy about the release of seven political prisoners, they are also enraged.
All of them, Continente said, were made to suffer for crimes they did not commit.
He said Guerrero should have been released a long time ago for there was no concrete evidence linking him to the murder charge. The Tagaytay 5, he said, was made to languish for two years and four months for a charge without any basis.
The gun found in Cano’s possession was “planted.”
Farmers, NDF consultants
Continente noted that majority of political detainees are ordinary farmers.
He said that most of them were picked up by soldiers and presented as members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
Five of the political detainees are consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). They are Elizabeth Principe, Eduardo Serrano, Randall Echanis, Angie Ipong and Randy Felix Malayao.
The arrest and detention of NDFP consultants violate the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), which was signed by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the NDFP on February 24, 1995. In sum, the JASIG guarantees the security and immunity from arrest of all those listed as involved in the peace negotiations.
Criminalization of political offense
Continente also revealed that most political prisoners are charged with common crimes, in violation of the
Amado V. Hernandez doctrine. The Hernandez doctrine became part of Philippine jurisprudence when, in 1956, the Supreme Court ruled in the case People of the Philippines vs. Hernandez that a person who commits a political offense could be charged with rebellion but not with common crimes such as murder, arson, robbery, etc. It ruled that the act of rebellion would already include and absorb these crimes.
Only three where charged with rebellion, two of whom are women. Lucy Canda and Juvelyn Tawaay were convicted of rebellion after three months of court hearings.
He said that the practice of the government of filing criminal charges such as murder, kidnapping, robbery, arson, etc. against persons suspected of committing acts of rebellion are meant to destroy the credibility of and demonize political prisoners.