By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — “Is it a crime to offer one’s life for the welfare of others?”
This was the statement of Angelina “Angie” Ipong, former political prisoner, during a forum organized by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), Dec. 13.
Ipong was arrested on March 8, 2005 in Lumbayao village, Aloran town, Misamis Occidental, by combined elements of the Philippine National Police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Southern Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). She was held incommunicado for 14 days and was subjected to sexual molestation and torture.
An advocate of the rights of peasants and indigenous peoples and a member of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Ipong, like most political prisoners, was slapped with common crimes such as double murder, double frustrated murder, and arson.
“Political detainees who have already served long and completely unjust sentences, continue to languish in jails; even as we have a president who is the son of a political prisoner himself,” Edre Olalia, NUPL secretary general, said.
“After six years [in detention], all the charges against me were dismissed. There was no basis for prolonging my incarceration. That is a terrible injustice to me,” Ipong said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares condemned the continuing criminalization of political offenses.
“Is it fair that a revolutionary is treated as nobody different from the killers of Ramjen Revilla?” Colmenares said. Ramjen Revilla, who was killed allegedly by family members, is the son of a former senator.
“The issue of political prisoners is an issue involving each one of us. We should not be treated as criminals for the mere exercise of our Constitutional rights,” Colmenares said.
In the same vein, Ipong, now secretary general of Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda), said: “No one should be imprisoned for his/her political beliefs.”
Colmenares said the government must abide by the People vs Hernandez doctrine and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
The former refers to a Supreme Court decision in 1964 stating that all actions undertaken in the pursuit of a political objective are considered a single political offense. The latter is an agreement signed between then Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) upholding the Hernandez political doctrine. The CARHRIHL also stipulates that the GRP shall review the cases of all political prisoners who have been charged, detained, or convicted contrary to Hernandez political doctrine and shall immediately cause their release.
According to the NUPL, of the 356 political prisoners, 303 or 85 percent are charged with common crimes alone.
In the same forum, Satur Ocampo, president of Makabayan coalition, shared his own experience.
Ocampo was first arrested during martial law and charged with subversion and rebellion. “After seven years of trial by the Military Commission, the military could not provide sufficient evidence,” Ocampo said. Ocampo escaped from prison.
Ocampo was again arrested together with his wife Carolina “Bobbie” Malay on July 27, 1989. They were charged with illegal possession of firearms in furtherance of rebellion or subversion, two separate but identical charges of kidnapping with serious illegal detention; and murder. In all four charges, the prosecution alleged that Satur and Bobbie committed these crimes as leaders of the revolutionary Left. Neither was found guilty of any of the crimes. He was freed in 1992, a year after Bobbie was released.
On March 16, 2007, Ocampo was again arrested on charges of multiple murder in connection with the alleged purging in Leyte. He was granted bail by the Supreme Court in April of the same year. Until now, the charges have not been withdrawn.
“The new administration should review cases of political prisoners, as stated in the CARHRIHL. Until now, they violate it,” Ocampo said.
John and Jane Does used vs activists
Colmenares also criticized the practice of filing charges against activists using John Does and Jane Does. By simply amending the information, Colmenares said mass leaders are included in the charge sheet without the benefit of preliminary investigation.
The lawmaker called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to intervene to stop such practices. “There should be concrete means to prosecute these offenders, including the perjured witnesses, the fiscals and the judges who issued the warrants of arrest,” Colmenares said.