By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — One of the very first acts of the late president Cory Aquino was to free political prisoners to fulfill her campaign promise and to pave the way for the transition from martial law to the restoration of the Filipino people’s formal democratic rights. The same was done by former president Fidel V. Ramos. Will the incoming Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino presidency do the same?
Under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime, from January 2001 to March 2010, Karapatan’s data showed that there are 317 political prisoners languishing in different jails all over the country, including the 43 health workers. All these political prisoners, like the 43 health workers, are charged with common crimes, mostly non-bailable offenses such as murder, frustrated murder, kidnapping, arson, among others. Only a few have been charged with political offenses such as rebellion, which is bailable.
“If Aquino has the political will, he can do it (free the prisoners),” Fr. Diony Cabillas, member of the national secretariat secretariat of the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Para sa Amnestiya (Selda) said. “At the minimum, we call for a speedy trial of their cases,” Cabillas said.
Rebellion is Not a Crime
The filing of common crimes against political dissenters is a 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.
The Philippines is also a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Protesters call for the release of political prisoners outside Camp Crame, headquarters of the Philippine National Police (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / bulatlat.com)
Based on Karapatan’s documentation, Fr. Diony Cabillas said it usually took three days after arrest before the political prisoners were surfaced in jails or presented to the media.
During interrogation most detainees were blindfolded and handcuffed, said Cabillas. Ed Sarmiento who was arrested in Northern Samar was one of the examples of political prisoners who were blindfolded, handcuffed and deprived of sleep for three days following his arrest in February 2009.
All Political Prisoners were Tortured
All political prisoners under the Arroyo regime suffered various forms of torture, physical and psychological.
Angelina Ipong for instance, 60 when abducted on March 8, 2005, was taken by more than ten armed men wearing bonnets and fatigue shorts and identifying themselves as police-CIDG (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group). She was handcuffed, blindfolded and then brought to the Bulacan Tabak Division Headquarters. For 14 days, Ipong was kept in complete isolation.
A fact sheet prepared by Karapatan recorded: “On March 11, Angie was brought to Southern Command Headquarters, where she was repeatedly tortured and sexually abused by her abductors. They tied her hands behind her back, struck her shoulders, punched her at her sides and hit her head with folded paper. Her abductors also undressed her, fondled and made fun of her breasts and touched her private parts. She was left unconscious and for the whole night, the aircon was in full blast.”
Peasant Obito Marquez, meanwhile, was taken by four armed men in civilian clothes on June 21, 2009. He was surfaced only after ten days. Marquez was charged with murder, frustrated murder, robbery, among others.
“His face was drowned in a toilet bowl with feces and he was presented to Palparan,” Cabillas, who visited Marquez at the Custodial Center of Camp Crame several times, said. Former Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. has been named “The Butcher” for the trail of blood he left in areas where he was assigned. “Palparan threatened Marquez that he would be killed next,” Cabillas said.
Psychological torture is also being used on political prisoners. Igleserio Fernia deeply suffered because of psychological torture. He was detained at the compound of the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) inside Camp Aguinaldo and charged with 21 cases.
“He overheard the soldiers saying his daughter had already been buried,” Cabillas said. “The soldiers knew how much he loves his family and they used it to cause him anguish,” Cabillas said.
Fernia was later transferred to Legazpi, Bicol.
Eduardo Serrano was also held incommunicado for ten days. Arrested on May 2, 2004, Serrano was hogtied with masking tape and hauled to the Intelligence Group-Intelligence Service Unit) in Fort Bonifacio.
Prisoners with Illnesses
For humanitarian reasons some of the political detainees ought to be freed immediately because they are sick. Cabillas cited the case of Jovencio Balweg Jr., 59 , who recently underwent a heart bypass operation.
Balweg is an indigenous people’s leader from Abra who was at the forefront of the struggle against the Chico Dam during the Marcos dictatorship, Cabillas said.
The medical cost of his operation amounted to P700,000 ($15,069), the family incurred debts amounting to P400,000 ($8,611). Balweg’s lawyer Rene Cortes appealed for his release for humanitarian reasons, to no avail.
Political prisoner Rolando Pañamugan who is detained at the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City, suffers from enlargement of the heart, Cabillas said.