By MELCHRIS CAYETANO
MANILA – It has been a month since the arrest of Esteban Manuel Jr., a consultant of the peace panel of the National Democratic Front, yet he is in solitary confinement inside a military camp.
Esteban’s family is appealing that he be moved to a regular detention facility.
His son, Albert Manuel, told human rights group Kapatid that they fear for his father’s safety. The family last visited Manuel on March 19, and found that Esteban, 73 years old and taking medicines for hypertension and other illnesses, is held in isolation in a military camp in Calbayog City.
Human rights advocates, including the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, have long maintained that solitary confinement is torture, and should be prohibited.
The family was only able to locate him through the assistance of the Commission on Human Rights three days after Esteban was arrested on Feb. 16 in Villareal town, Samar by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Joint Task Force Storm. Esteban was charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
In a statement, the Communist Party of the Philippines denounced the filing trumped-up charges of against Esteban. “Claims of the military that a fragmentation grenade and a cal.45 pistol were seized from Esteban are false. All of these are planted evidences to charge him with an unbailable crime and thus prolong his detention,” the CPP said.
The family called on the CHR and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to regularly monitor Esteban’s condition and help them with his transfer to a regular jail or facility where he can be free from any pressure or threat.
Albert said, “I thank everyone who kept my father in good condition both physically and mentally. We plan to visit again as much as we can physically and financially afford. This will be very challenging, but it’s all worth it as long as we see him in good shape and spirit.”
Esteban is the latest in the series of arrests of consultants and staff since President Rodrigo Duterte turned his back on the peace negotiations with the NDFP. Six consultants have also been killed since.
The CPP said Esteban holds official documents of identification under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). The JASIG, signed by the GRP and NDFP in 1995, provides guarantees for negotiators, personnel and consultants of both parties against reprisals, including surveillance and arrests. (JJE, RVO)
This report was updated on March 25, 2022, 2:17 p.m. to correct the number of peace consultants killed since the cancellation of peace talks under President Duterte. A timeline on the attacks against peace consultants is available here.