“They are common people like us, but are organizing others.”
By GINO ESTELLA
MANILA – While the peace panels of the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) held preliminary talks in Oslo, Norway, human rights advocates sent, on June 14, a clear message to the incoming Duterte administration for the freedom of all political prisoners.
At the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) Sunken Garden, progressive human rights advocacy groups such as Karapatan, Selda, Hustisya and Desaparecidos called out to the incoming Duterte administration to take steps in assuring the freedom of political prisoners.
Arranging newspaper sheets on the grass, they spelled out “Free all political prisoners” in the iconic UP Sunken Garden.
“It has been expressed in earlier agreements that there will be respect for human rights and there will be no one imprisoned for their beliefs,” Hustisya Secretary-General Christina Guevarra told Bulatlat in Filipino. “That is why we welcome the pronouncements of Duterte to free the political prisoners,” she added.
Guevarra said they used newspapers because it was the material within reach, as she likens the practice of political prisoners to use any material at hand to make craft inside their cells.
“The materials we used were the cheapest and most available. These could be also the materials used (by detainees) in prison,” she said.
A few steps away from the installation was Sa Timyas ng Paglaya, an art exhibit at the Bulwagan ng Dangal, showing works created by current and former political detainees. Guevarra said the artworks in the exhibit reflected their commitment to advance the rights of sectors, such as the workers and peasants.
There are a total of 509 political prisoners around the Philippines. Some have court cases which have lasted for a few months, while some, for a decade. Amnesty and justice is sought by the families and supporters of the political prisoners.
On June 15, a regional trial court in Bacoor, Cavite dismissed the charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against political detainees Adelberto Silva, his wife Rosanna Cabusao and Isidro de Lima. The latter two walked free, while Silva remains detained as he faces two other criminal charges in connection to the alleged Leyte mass grave.
Two other political prisoners — Hilario Guio and Andres Eli — were recently released on bail in Nueva Ecija.
While Guevarra brought the good news to the crowd at Sunken Garden, the father of a political prisoner in Nueva Ecija stood in silence, for his son still remains in jail.
Amador “Tatay Boy” Cadano is the father of Guiller “Guilly” Cadano, a UP graduate. He has been detained for over two years, along with another UP alumnus, Gerard “Geary” Salonga. They were both youth activists organizing peasants in the area when they were arrested and charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Tatay Boy said the case remains pending in the pre-trial phase.
“After the two were imprisoned, I joined Hustisya and other families of political prisoners,” Tatay Boy said in Filipino. He said the hearings keep getting delayed due to the prosecutor’s absences.
He expressed his disdain for the Aquino administration’s disregard for the existence of political prisoners in the Philippines
“They are common people like us, but are organizing others,” he said in Filipino. “They do this so people could understand their own condition so they can uplift themselves. Yet they were imprisoned, and the outgoing administration keeps insisting that they do not exist.”
The older Cadano said he believes the resumption of the peace negotiations between the GPH and NDFP is essential to get freedom for political prisoners like his son, Guilly.
“(The current government) keeps telling everyone that a conflict between two governments does not exist,” he said. “At least for now, we can see a future conclusion to the peace negotiations.”
Cadano regards the ongoing peace talks as a way for armed conflict to cease, and for understanding to take place.
“The freedom of the political prisoners has a requisite of continuing the peace talks. That is what we are looking at right now, for the armed conflict to stop and for the talking to start,” he said. “That is the only way for us to understand each other,” he added.