By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Nine political prisoners marked the death anniversary of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., the president’s father, by initiating their four day fasting to demand for their release.
Ninoy, himself a political detainee during martial law, was assassinated Aug. 21, 1983 at the then Manila International Airport.
Unlike Ninoy, the nine political detainees have been charged with common crimes such as multiple murder, multiple frustrated murder and damage to government property to hide the political nature of their incarceration.
Although the nine were arrested in separate incidents, they are facing the same charges filed before the Regional Trial Court in the town of Calamba, Misamis Occidental. Known as the Calamba 9, they are detained at Misamis Occidental Provincial Reformatory Jail (MOPRJ) in Oroquieta City.
In a joint statement, the Calamba 9 urged Ninoy’s son, President Benigno S. Aquino III, to grant their call for their immediate release, along with the release of all political prisoners.
“We urge President Noynoy Aquino to do what his mother did a month after she assumed the presidency, when she granted general amnesty to the political prisoners. We also remind President Aquino of his father’s suffering and anguish as a political prisoner as we commemorate his 28th death anniversary,” they said.
The Calamba 9 are Mercy Maghinay, Esmeralda Anghag, Marcelino “Mars”Marata, Antonio Roda, Saturnino Anding, Arnold Lamban, Declard Cangmaong, Pablito Palubon, and Narciso Ramo.
“We wonder what is keeping our case from being dismissed despite the weak evidence and incredible witnesses presented by the prosecution,” they said in a statement.
“Like many other political prisoners, they are victims of trumped-up charges and the slow-paced justice system in the country,” Angie Ipong, spokeswoman of Samahan ng Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda), said.
Ipong said the release of the Calamba 9 is long overdue since the prosecution failed to present credible eye witnesses and sufficient evidence.
“All what they have said were from secondary and tertiary sources showing very weak bases for their further incarceration. In fact, four of them have never been mentioned in any of the testimonies of the witnesses,” Ipong said.
One of them, Antonio Roda, has been suffering from a severe kidney infection. Ipong said as a result of the unsanitary conditions in jail, some have been experiencing hypertension, respiratory illnesses and skin diseases. She noted, too, that the two women have long been separated from their very young children.
Maghinay, 32, has two children while Anghag has four children. The women were arrested separately in 2008.
According to Selda, Marata, Roda and Anding and wife Virgina Buhian and Lamban were held under military custody from two weeks to six months before they were surfaced.
Marata, 36, a journalist and college professor, was held by the military for six months in 2007 and was released after. He was then arrested on December 11, 2009.
Meanwhile, Roda, 41, a health worker, was arrested on August 3, 2007 and was heavily tortured for two weeks by the military, according to Selda.
Anding and wife Virginia were arrested August 20, 2007 and were under military custody for six months. Virginia was also detained but had been released on February 19, 2008.
Lamban, 28, was arrested on October 1, 2008, temporarily released for two months by military captors. On December 11, 2008, he was arrested again and detained at the MOPRJ.
Selda reiterated its call for a general, unconditional and omnibus amnesty for all political prisoners as a “just act of a President who promised to take the ‘daang matuwid.’ (straight path)”