Political prisoners, kin go fasting

MANILA — To reiterate their demand for freedom, political prisoners, their relatives and supporters started a week-long fasting, their third since President Benigno Aquino III assumed office.

Led by the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda), relatives and supporters trooped to the Department of Justice (DOJ), July 16.

There are 385 political prisoners languishing in different detention centers all over the country. According to Selda and Karapatan, 104 of them were arrested under the Aquino administration. Thirty-one of the political prisoners are women.

According to Selda, political prisoners in Southern Mindanao, Compostela Valley, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Batangas Provincial Jail, Isabela Provincial Jail, New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City, Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City and Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame in Quezon City have joined the fasting. Some of them, Selda’s Ipong said, will go on a hunger strike starting July 20 until Aquino’s third State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 23.

Former political prisoners such as Randall Echanis of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Angie Ipong of Selda, Karapatan chairwoman Marie Hilao-Enriquez, several of the so-called Morong 43 or the 43 health workers arrested in Morong, Rizal in February 2009, joined the protest action.

Speaking at the rally, Echanis slammed Aquino’s refusal to release political prisoners, including 14 consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) who are supposedly covered by immunity and safety guarantees under a bilateral agreement signed by the Government of the Philippines and the NDFP.

Karapatan’s Enriquez criticized Aquino for lying about the existence of political prisoners. “This government is lying through its teeth when it repeatedly said that there are no political prisoners. It aims to deceive the people that it is different from the previous, much-loathed Arroyo administration,” Enriquez said.

Relatives of Moro prisoners who were unjustly accused of being Abu Sayyaf members during the crackdown in Mindanao under the Arroyo administration also appealed to Aquino for the immediate release of their loved ones.

Aquino has not granted the demand for general, omnibus and unconditional amnesty for all political prisoners.

“The government has continuously focused on prosecuting activists and their supporters because of their political beliefs,” Ipong said.

Text and photos by Ronalyn V. Olea

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