“Branding political prisoners as criminals and heaping upon them common crime charges conveniently hide the political nature of their acts; allow the government to shamelessly declare them as common criminals not motivated by a higher goal, thereby violating these prisoners’ rights even more.” – Angie Ipong, Selda secretary general
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Rights groups have taken offense with the statement of Malacañang and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that there are no political prisoners in the country.
On the anniversary of the declaration of martial law, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said :“To our knowledge, we have no political prisoners…”
On Wednesday, Brig.Gen. Eduardo Del Rosario, AFP-Civil Relations Service (CRS) chief also denied the existence of political prisoners, saying only convicted criminals or those charged with criminal offenses are locked up in various state detention facilities.
Del Rosario’s statement was issued in response to calls made by several organizations and some lawmakers belonging to the Makabayan bloc urging President Benigno S. Aquino III to free all political prisoners.
The Samahan ng mga Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda) said the AFP’s statement shows the “total disregard for human rights and the violation of the military and the GPH of standing agreements and jurisprudence prohibiting the criminalization of political offenses.”
Selda cited the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) signed by both the government and the National Democratic Front and the Hernandez doctrine prohibiting the criminalization of political offenses.
In the case People of the Philippines vs. Hernandez, the Supreme Court ruled that rebellion could not be complexed with other crimes such as murder and arson. The act of rebellion itself includes and absorbs such crimes.
Karapatan records show that out of the 360 political prisoners as of August this year, at least 303 (84 percent) have been charged with common crimes and 15 (14 percent) have been charged with rebellion. Twenty others have been charged with common crimes in addition to rebellion, two were charged with “terrorism” while there is no sufficient available data for the rest of the twenty.
“Branding political prisoners as criminals and heaping upon them common crime charges conveniently hide the political nature of their acts; allow the government to shamelessly declare them as common criminals not motivated by a higher goal, thereby violating these prisoners’ rights even more,” Angie Ipong, Selda secretary general, said.
Ipong herself was detained for six years for trumped up charges of double murder, double attempted murder and arson which were all dismissed due to lack of evidence.
What the government is doing in criminalizing political actions is no different from what the US colonial powers did a century ago to patriotic Filipinos fighting for independence. The American colonizers branded as ‘bandits, brigands and robbers’ such nationalists as Macario Sakay and his men who were resisting imperial domination. We hope that this government learns from history and stop the practice of discrediting patriots as ordinary criminals,” Ipong said.
In another statement, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said the existence of political prisoners in several parts of the country is an obvious matter of fact that Malacañang will be hard put to deny.
The group recently held an audience with Justice Secretary Leila De Lima and Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III where they pointed out two dirty tricks — charging political prisoners with common crimes and the improvident use of “John/Jane Does” in criminal informations filed in court.
“Political activists are the usual victims of the improvident use of John/Jane Does. Whenever an information involving “John/Jane Does” is hastily filed in court, spurious witnesses belatedly spring up to identify activists and members of political organizations supposedly as the unknown suspects, by fabricating affidavits naming certain persons to be the John/Jane Does in the charge sheet,” Edre Olalia, secretary general of NUPL, said.
“After the political activists are identified in bad faith as the John/Jane Does, arrest warrants are issued and they are arrested without any preliminary investigation in violation of their right to due process,” Olalia added.
In a related development, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares and other partylist lawmakers filed House Resolution, Oct. 13, urging the House Committee on Human Rights and the Committee on Justice to investigate the continuous and rampant filing of false and trumped up criminal charges against persons who are politically critical of the government.
Proponents of the resolution noted that despite the new administration’s widespread call for a transparent government and ‘matuwid na daan’ (straight path), the filing of fabricated charges against political activists continues, notably non-bailable criminal offenses designed to keep political prisoners in jail.
Colmenares and other partylist representatives cited the cases of 72 activists in Southern Tagalog, artist Ericson Acosta, University of the Philippines student Maricon Montajes and National Democratic Front of the Philippines consultant Alan Jazmines.