“The overwhelming show of people’s goodwill and humanitarianism in the aftermath of super-typhoon Yolanda should prod the BS Aquino government to extend compassion to ailing and elderly political prisoners who continue to suffer systemic and systematic injustice.” – Ramon Patriarca, detained at the AFP Central Command Headquarters at Camp Lapu Lapu, Cebu City
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Detention could not break their spirits.
Political prisoners in the country staged a ten-day fasting and hunger strike to protest the “continued detention, the unabated human rights violations, the continuing corruption in the government and the ineptitude of the BS Aquino regime in responding to the people’s situation in the areas hit by typhoon Haiyan.”
According to human rights group Karapatan, there are 449 political prisoners in the country; 154 of whom were arrested under the Aquino administration.
Karapatan and Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda) reiterated their call for the release of all political prisoners.
“As former Batangas governor Antonio Leviste walks out of prison, 449 political prisoners, who were wrongfully accused of criminal offenses because of their political beliefs, will have to spend Christmas again in jail. Some 28 of them are elderly like Leviste. They, too, deserve to be out of prison. After all, they are not criminals,” Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairwoman of Selda and Karapatan, said.
Leviste, convicted in 2009 for murder of Rafael delas Alas, was granted parole.
In September, political prisoner Alison Alcantara, 55, died of fatal arrhythmia, sepsis and health-care associated pneumonia. Hilao-Enriquez criticized the Aquino government for “ignoring repeated pleas for Alcantara’s release on humanitarian grounds.” Alcantara was only taken to the Philippine General Hospital after he fell into a coma a few days before he died. “There are at least 48 others who are similarly suffering from various ailments without proper medication,” Hilao-Enriquez said.
Political prisoners Intong Amirol, 70, also died this year following a stroke and other medical complications. Two others, Mariano Umbrero and Crisanto Fat, died in 2011 of cancer and heart attack, respectively, while in prison.
Ramon Patriarca, a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) who is detained at the AFP Central Command Headquarters at Camp Lapu Lapu, Cebu City, echoed the same demand.
“These ailing and elderly political prisoners need to be released from prison, where conditions are poor, and may likely prove fatal to their already delicate health,” Patriarca said in a statement released from prison.
Patriarca cited Ramon Argente, who recently underwent a triple heart by-pass operation; Vanessa de los Reyes and Alvin Langlang, both paralyzed from the waist down; and 68-year-old Jesus Alegre and his 66-year-old wife Moreta.
“The overwhelming show of people’s goodwill and humanitarianism in the aftermath of super-typhoon Yolanda should prod the BS Aquino government to extend compassion to ailing and elderly political prisoners who continue to suffer systemic and systematic injustice,” he said.
Patriarca, the only political prisoner under the custody of the military, started his hunger strike December 3. Twelve other peace consultants of the NDFP detained in different jails nationwide also went into fasting. They are Renante Gamara, Eduardo Sarmiento, Eduardo Serrano, Alan Jazmines, Tirso Alcantara, Emeterio Antalan, Leopoldo Caluza, Edgardo Friginal, Alfredo Mapano, Pedro Codaste, Jaime Soledad and Loida Magpatoc.
The peace consultants said in a separate statement issued last week that, as a matter of principle, the NDFP remains open in continuing the peace talks “especially in the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan and the magnitude of disaster brought about by the ineptitude of the BS government in preparing for the typhoon and in responding to the situation of the victims.”
Those detained at the Camp Bagong Diwa said, however, “Since there is not much hope for the resumption of peace talks between the NDFP and the GPH, and the subsequent release of political prisoners, we see no other alternative but for this sitting president to be replaced by someone who is more capable and open to the possibilities that a peace negotiations process may prosper.”
The consultants also scored the government’s continuing military operations and its refusal to match the ceasefire declaration of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army in disaster-stricken areas. They accused the Armed Forces of the Philippines of being “more concerned with their war against the so-called enemies of the state than with the plight of the victims of the typhoon.”
The 13 NDFP consultants have been charged with common crimes. The NDFP pointed out that this is a violation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) signed between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) and the NDFP in 1995.