In a show of commitment not only to their clients but to the cause of human rights, lawyers and law students from the National Union of People’s Lawyers will hold a sympathy fast to press for the release of all political prisoners.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Taking the cudgels for their clients, this time in the arena of public opinion, human rights lawyers and law students announced that they will hold a sympathy fast for political prisoners this Friday, September 14.
Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said the sympathy fasting aims to press for the release of 385 political prisoners, some of whom are direct clients of the NUPL and many are sick, elderly and women. On Sept. 14, NUPL members in Manila will also visit political prisoners detained at Camp Crame, Fort Bonifacio, Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig and those serving their sentences at the National Bilibid Prisons.
“We are holding this fasting and jail visit as we remember the 40th anniversary of martial law and mark the NUPL’s 5th founding anniversary on September 15,” Olalia said.
Serving on a pro bono basis, NUPL lawyers have been handling many human rights cases, and several countersuits against perpetrators, such as those filed by the Morong 43, the United Church of Christ of the Philippines, by the mothers of Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, by the family of Jonas Burgos. They also handle the cases or act as collaborating lawyers on the cases of political prisoner Ericson Acosta and on the extrajudicial killing of Wilhelm Geertman and Benjamin Bayles, among others.
The group said that some 300 lawyers and 200 law students and paralegals from its 18 regional and provincial chapters will join the fasting and conduct jail visits in their own localities.
President Benigno Aquino III has ignored calls for the release of all political prisoners. Malacanang spokesman Edwin Lacierda even denied the existence of political prisoners under the Aquino administration.
Several organizations of lawyers from all over the world expressed support for the NUPL’s move.
In a statement, the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers based in London said it “admires the devotion of the NUPL to both their clients and to justice for political prisoners.”
“The worthwhile aims of the fasting are to highlight the plight of their clients and other political prisoners, as well as to put pressure on the government as part of a larger campaign for their release. This direct and concerted action by this NUPL legal community is a novel and welcome precedent,” the Haldane Society said.
Meanwhile, Belgian lawyers belonging to the Progress Lawyers Network based in Brussels and Antwerp said their group has been monitoring the human rights situation in the Philippines. “…[w]e have been taking a firm position against extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other human rights violations like the issue of criminalization of political offenses and the abuse of generic warrants.”
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.
The Progress Lawyers Network called on the Philippine government to release all political prisoners through a general, unconditional and omnibus amnesty.
In a separate statement, David Gespass of the New York-based National Lawyers Guild, a 75-year old association of civil liberties, public interest and jail lawyers, said: “We recognize that the NUPL’s work has had great impact and we hope that this concerted action will help further highlight the plight of your clients and other political prisoners.”
In a solidarity message, Jitendra Sharma, president of the Indian Association of Lawyers said “no country claiming to be democratic has any right to keep political prisoners in jail for such long terms.”
The International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) based in the Netherlands and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), a 90-country member association of democratic lawyers, which has consultative status and accreditation with the United Nations, also sent their solidarity messages.