Not only does the Aquino government remain deaf to calls for the freedom of all political prisoners, it has continued the practice of detaining political dissenters.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – The number of political prisoners under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III is fast approximating that of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s.
According to human rights group Karapatan, 107 of the 385 political prisoners were arrested under the two-year administration of Aquino. The group also documented 222 cases of illegal arrest without detention from June 2010 until June 30 this year.
This Monday July 16, political prisoners in ten detention facilities from Luzon to Mindanao began their one-week fasting to push the call for the release of all political prisoners. Some of the political prisoners would stage a hunger strike from July 20 until July 23, in time for Aquino’s third State of the Nation Address (Sona).
“It has been two years since we started to campaign and lobby for the release of political prisoners who are in various jails, but President Noynoy Aquino not only ignored our call but also arrested and detained 107 more farmers, indigenous peoples, leaders of organizations and activists, as well as suspected rebels,” said Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairwoman of both Karapatan and Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda).
Enriquez said Aquino “cannot go on pretending that there are no political prisoners in the country because he is already responsible for detaining 107 activists based mostly on fabricated charges in the same way as Gloria did through the brutal Oplan Bantay Laya.” Oplan Bantay Laya is the counterinsurgency program implemented by the Arroyo administration.
During the nine-year reign of Arroyo, Karapatan documented 343 political prisoners arrested and detained.
Malacañang officials repeatedly denied the existence of political prisoners in the country. Based on Karapatan’s monitoring, 84 percent of political prisoners have been charged with common crimes while only four percent have been charged with rebellion. The rest are facing rebellion plus criminal charges.
Angie Ipong, Selda secretary general, said such practice “aims to portray political prisoners as common criminals and to prolong their detention.”
Data from Karapatan
Ipong herself was charged with heinous, non-bailable crimes such as double murder and frustrated murder. It took six years, after all the cases were dismissed before she was released.
“Aquino just continued Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya tactics under the new Oplan Bayanihan to file trumped-up charges against political activists because the government wanted to quell dissent.” Ipong said, referring to the administrations counterinsurgency program.
Majority of political prisoners are farmers who are fighting for their right to land, said Ipong.
In a separate statement, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano said “there is a rising trend of criminalization of land disputes wherein farmers who fight against land grabbing and land conversion are charged with common crimes.”
According to Mariano, also chairman of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), among the peasant political detainees are Dario Tomada , a former peasant leader of the local chapter of KMP in Eastern Visayas; Darwin Liwag, vice chairman of the Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK), the local chapter of KMP in Southern Tagalog; peasant organizers Efren Delalamon and Andres Ely; Anakpawis member Ambrocio Ileto and his son Jan Michael Ileto; Alex Arias, chairman of the Pagkakaisa’t Ugnayan ng mga Katipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Laguna (Pumalag); Felicidad Caparal , an organizer of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma), Eddie Cruz, a member of Kasama – Rizal, among others.
“We find no reason why the government is delaying their release when clearly all the political prisoners especially the sick, the elderly, those in jail too long, and those covered by the Jasig [Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees] should have been released earlier,” Ipong said.
Data from Karapatan
According to Selda, 48 political prisoners are suffering from various illnesses, 30 of the 385 political prisoners are women. Some, according to Ipong, have spent more than 15 years in prison.
One of them, Jose Ceriales, have been detained for 27 years already. Charged and convicted of murder and frustrated murder, Ceriales should have been released when former president Corazon Cojuangco- Aquino ordered the release of all political prisoners. Ceriales is detained at the National Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City.
Jasig, meanwhile, is a bilateral agreement signed by then Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). According to Jasig, all consultants and staff of both parties are immune from arrest, detention and other forms harassment. Fourteen NDFP consultants and staff who are supposedly covered by Jasig were arrested and detained. Three – Tirso Alcantara , Alan Jazmines and Renante Gamara – were arrested under Aquino.
The release of detained NDFP consultants has been a thorny issue in the peace talks between the GPH and NDFP. The GPH continues to refuse to release the detained NDFP consultants.
Ipong said Alcantara and another NDFP consultant, Ramon Patriarca , are under military captivity, which she said, is “violation of due process.”
Under Philippine laws, civilians arrested and charged should be sent to civilian detention facilities.
Alcantara is detained at Fort Bonifacio, headquarters of the Philippine Army while Patriarca has been transferred to Camp Lapu-Lapu, headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Command.
In a joint statement, political prisoners detained at Camp Crame – Renante Gamara, Eduardo Serrano and Eduardo Sarmiento – condemned the “ill treatment” of Alcantara. “He is being poisoned in small doses,” they said.
Ipong said that according to relatives of Alcantara, the NDFP consultant would sometimes discover small pieces of broken glass or match sticks in his food. “After eating, he would sometimes vomit and feel dizzy,” Ipong said.
Ipong urged Aquino to grant an immediate, general, unconditional and omnibus amnesty to free all political prisoners in the country.
Enriquez said Aquino, despite being a son of a former political prisoner, “does not heed the call to release all political prisoners and continues to detain those who hold political views not similar to those in power.”
Aquino’s father, Benigno Jr., commonly known as Ninoy, was the most prominent opponent of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.