By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
Peasants and their supporters marched anew to Mendiola last Thursday to commemorate the 28th year of the Mendiola Massacre (Jan. 22, 1987). Again they cried for justice, primarily for the 13 farmer-marchers killed by lethal volleys from state troops and police.
Among them were farmers/farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita Inc. and three other big landed estates: Araneta Estate in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan; Hda. Dolores in Porac, Pampanga; Hda. Looc in Batangas; and Yulo King Ranch in Coron, Palawan. They denounced “state and corporate landgrabbing.”
Invoking Pope Francis’ exhortation to “all [those] responsible for the good of society to renew your commitment to social justice and the betterment of the poor,” they echoed the 1987 marchers’ demands to the Corazon Cojuangco- Aquino government: free land distribution to the farmers.
How has the present administration responded to the papal appeal?
Take it from President Aquino himself. “Palagay ko hindi nakatukoy sa atin ‘yan, ano (I don’t feel alluded to),” he told reporters after the Monday send-off ceremonies for the pope. (The Jan. 20 Business Mirror news headline says, “Pope’s plea to aid poor, address corruption issues not meant for me, Aquino insists”)
On the same occasion, however, P-Noy said something that probably can also be invoked by those who feel his government’s inattention or indifference, such as the protesting farmers.
Stressing that fighting corruption should be pursued through the right processes, he said: “As the saying goes, the measure of democracy is not how you defend your friend’s rights but [how you defend] the rights of your enemy.”
In a parallel vein – castigating the security forces for illegally arresting 43 health workers during a seminar in Morong, Rizal in February – P-Noy said on Dec. 10, 2010:
“The medical workers were arrested in the waning days of the Arroyo administration on the suspicion that they were aiding NPA insurgents. These are valid reasons. Nevertheless, we recognize that their right to due process was denied them. As a government that is committed to the rule of law and the rights of man, this cannot stand.
“When we talked to the hierarchy of the Armed Forces and the PNP, I insisted to them that we shouldn’t take shortcuts in implementing our laws. If we are not going to comply, how would we be different from those who violate the law?”
Accordingly, P-Noy directed the justice department to withdraw the illegal possession of firearms and explosives charge filed against the health workers. And after the “Morong 43” demanded their immediate release by going on hunger strike, he ordered them freed.
Prompted by that statement cum action, I wrote in this column on Dec. 18, 2010:
“If that is to be the template for handling cases involving ‘national security’ under the new government [P-Noy was just in his 6th month in office], it must review all the cases of the other political detainees, including those who have been convicted of common crimes but tagged as NPA rebels or supporters. Those found to have been denied due process should be promptly cleared and freed.
“The fact is that for so long now, procedural shortcuts and blatant violations of due process have characterized the arrest, detention, and prosecution of many political activists, even plain citizens, suspected by the security forces of having links with the CPP-NPA.”
Sadly, no review has been done. Which explains why the 491 political detainees in 50 jails went on hunger strike during Pope Francis’ visit: to seek redress from unjust treatment, not least through the filing of multiple trumped-up, non-bailable common-crime charges of murder, arson, kidnapping, robbery in band, etc.
The crux of their grievances: All the post-martial law administrations – starting with Cory Aquino’s – have increasingly sought to portray as criminals those who act in pursuance of their political beliefs, aiming for fundamental change in government and the inequitable ruling system.
Obviously the government has taken this prosecutorial tack to underpin its claim that the CPP-NPA has lost its ideological mooring and degenerated into “banditry and lawlessness.”
The criminalization of political acts violates the “political offense doctrine” or jurisprudence, established in 1956 by the Supreme Court in the landmark Amado V. Hernandez case – upheld eight times thereafter. As alleged CPP leader, Ka Amado (a National Artist for Literature) was charged with rebellion, multiple murder, arson, and robbery.
Invoking national and international laws and jurisprudence, the SC junked the multiple charges. It ruled that the charges constituted “only one crime – that of rebellion plain and simple.” It upheld that “common crimes, perpetrated in furtherance of a political offense, are divested of their character as common offenses and assume the complexion of the main crime [rebellion] of which they are mere ingredients, and, consequently cannot be punished separately from the principal offense…”
Note that both the political detainees’ protest and the peasants’ demand for justice in the Mendiola Massacre trace back to the Cory Aquino administration. Both are also among the several outstanding issues in the long-suspended GPH-NDFP peace talks, which P-Noy had vowed to resume.
Thus, the onus to rectify the breach of jurisprudence, to accord justice to the massacre victims and their legitimate demands, and to work towards attaining just and lasting peace, now lies squarely on the P-Noy administration.
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Published in The Philippine Star
January 24, 2015