“His death is the face of martial law in our country today. He suffered and died because of the cruelty and injustice of this government that speaks of ‘democracy’ but denies the rights of political prisoners.” – Cristina Guevarra, secretary general of Hustisya
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Political prisoner Benny Barid died 11 a.m., Sept. 18.
For years, Barid, 54, had gone in and out of the hospital at the New Bilibid Prisons Maximum Security Compound in Muntinlupa City due to his chronic asthmatic bronchitis with emphysema.
Since 2010, however, the poor conditions inside the NBP and its hospital had worsened his asthma attacks. His prolonged confinement at the NBP Hospital made him more vulnerable to various diseases, said the human rights group Hustisya.
Barid was arrested in July 2006 on charges of an alleged massacre in Ilocos Norte in 2004. He was convicted and sentenced with three counts of life imprisonment.
His fellow political detainees at the NBP mourned his death.
“We would like to extend our condolences to the Barid family. The poor conditions and the lack of health services inside the jail were contributing factors to his suffering. Too, he had lost hope since the government has not taken any action to free political prisoners,” the NBP political prisoners said in a statement. “The fight for freedom continues.”
His fellow political prisoners were the ones who looked after him, finding means to provide his needed medicine.
Barid was a political prisoner during the Marcos dictatorship but was granted amnesty by the succeeding regime of President Corazon Aquino. He was arrested in 2004 for subversion and illegal possession of firearms. Both cases were subsequently dismissed.
In 2005, he was arrested and detained again for almost two months. The military searched his house and reportedly found firearms. Hustisya, in a statement, said that in all these incidents, state security forces consistently pinned him down as member of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
His child was even held hostage by the military to force him to surrender, according to Hustisya.
Hold Aquino accountable
Human rights groups have long demanded the release of Barid on humanitarian grounds. With this, Hustisya, in a statement, said the Aquino administration should be held accountable for his death.
“His death is the face of martial law in our country today. He suffered and died because of the cruelty and injustice of this government that speaks of ‘democracy’ but denies the rights of political prisoners,” Cristina Guevarra, secretary general of Hustisya, said.
Of the 504 political prisoners in the country, 53 are with various ailments. Among political prisoners who died in detention were Crisanto Fat and Alison Alcantara. Alcantara was brought to the Philippine General Hospital in Manila only after he went into coma at the NBP Hospital in 2013.
“How many more ailing political prisoners will suffer from the dire and subhuman conditions inside different detention centers in the country? How many more, after Alison Alcantara and Benny Barid?” Guevarra said.
Free political prisoners
Human rights group Selda, for its part, dared the Aquino government to release political prisoners in time for the commemoration of the declaration of martial law on Sept. 21, Sunday.
Decades after the martial law years, Selda said the country continues “to face the bleak reality of the existence of political prisoners.” Political prisoners, they added, are slapped with trumped-up charges and many were tortured and denied their right to counsel and due process.
“They suffer inhumane prison conditions and prolonged imprisonment, and snail-paced judicial process,” the group said.
Selda spokesperson Roneo Clamor said the poor conditions, barely habitable and unsafe government detention facilities endanger the lives of the more vulnerable sick and elderly political prisoners.
“Pres. Aquino’s hands are bloodied with the death of ailing political prisoners. His government’s callousness and injustice against them are no different from Marcos. The Aquino government perpetuates the culture of impunity. We call on the people to unite and demand justice and freedom for all political prisoners,” Clamor said.