Political Prisoners at Camp Bagong Diwa
We, political prisoners in various jails here in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City, greet with great enthusiasm the Caravan para sa Kalayaan (Caravan for Freedom) that Samahan ng mga Ex-detainee laban sa Detensyon at para sa Amnestiya (SELDA), KARAPATAN, and other advocates of freedom and justice for all political prisoners are launching today, highlighted by a tour of detention centers where political prisoners are being kept in Metro Manila, and a rally before the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) to demand the release of detained National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultants and other political prisoners, and to call for the resumption of the stalled peace talks between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH).
The Caravan para sa Kalayaan is also giving emphasis on the gross inhumanity and injustice in the continuing detention of political prisoners who are sickly, elderly, minors or arrested as minors, and have long been under detention.
Political prisoners in various jails here in Camp Bagong Diwa include those being kept in the Female Detention at the Taguig District Jail (FD-TDJ), in the Special Intensive Care Area (SICA), and in the Metro Manila District Jail-Main (MMDJ-Main), practically all of whom have been unjustly, arbitrarily and illegally arrested, detained and charges in courts.
Among us are five peace consultants of the NDFP — Ma. Loida Magpatoc, detained at the TCJ-FD, Tirso Alcantara, Emeterio Antalan, Leopoldo Caloza and Alan Jazmines, detained at the SICA. Four at the MMDJ-Main, and some 200 more at the SICA, some 25 of whom are associated with the national democratic movement, another of the same number associated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and more than a hundred ordinary community folk — practically all unjustly, arbitrarily and illegally arrested, tortured, detained and swamped with trumped-up criminalized charges, and mostly under intentional “mistaken identities” just so that those behind their arrest and detention could collect all and pocket huge bounties provided by the US “anti-terrorist” aid and by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
There are also (particularly here at the SICA) a handful of US rendition victims (all Indonesians), who were surreptitiously transferred (under US FBI direction and Philippine police, military and intelligence connivance and implementation) to Philippine detention, and made to undergo the exceedingly rotten and slow justice system in the country, just to keep those rendition victims indefinitely detained in a Philippine version of Guantanamo.
As of August 2013, there are 449 political prisoners in the country, all victims of gross violations of justice and human rights, including numerous provisions in the NDFP-GPH’s CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law). The current Aquino regime has been responsible for the arrest and detention of about a third of these, and yet it lies through its teeth in denying that there are political prisoners in the country.
Among political prisoners are some 14 NDFP peace consultants, whose arrest, torture, detention and prosecution have been in arrogant violation of the NDFP-GPH’s JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees), which is supposed to protect peace consultants and peace process staffs from arrest, torture, detention, prosecution, and other antagonistic acts that would deter their effective participation and work in the peace process. The adamant refusal of the current Aquino government to abide by the JASIG, as well as CARHRIHL and other standing peace agreements, has caused the stalling once again of the NDFP-GPH peace talks.
Earlier GPH regimes had in varying degrees been more open to abiding by peace agreements, including guaranteeing the freedom and safety of NDFP peace consultants and staffs. The Ramos regime was the most open, such that the NDFP-GPH peace talks achieved the most progress during its reign.
There were also a number of agreements up to the Gloria Arroyo regime. But the problem was that most of those agreements were actually only on paper and not implemented. It was also under that regime when a number of NDFP peace consultants became victims of involuntary disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Eventually the Gloria Arroyo regime even went as far as suspending the JASIG and conniving with the Dutch police to arrest the NDFP’s Chief Political and Peace Adviser, Jose Ma. Sison.
The current Aquino regime agreed to resume the NDFP-GPH peace talks and revive the suspended JASIG and other peace agreements. But it did not do so in actual practice. It denied JASIG protection for NDFP peace consultants and staffs, and in fact had an NDFP peace consultants and member of the NDFP Committee on Socio-Economic Reforms arrested and detained on the very eve of the resumed peace talks, had a number of other NDFP peace consultants and JASIG holders arrested and continue to be detained, despite the NDFP peace panel’s demand for their release.
The current Aquino Regime also left hanging and did not bother to touch, much less to implement, specific peace agreements entered into by the NDFP and GPH peace panels during the Gloria Arroyo regime, including the following:
- The review and evaluation of cases about 300 political prisoners documented by KARAPATAN and the immediate release of those found to have been arrested, detained and charged or even convicted of what were made to appear as common crimes, contrary to the Hernandez Doctrine (which prohibits charging with common crimes those with supposed political offenses), as those political prisoners were only involved in political opposition and had nothing to do with common crimes they were arrested, detained, charged or even convicted for — or in many cases were only innocent civilians);
- The immediate release (within 30 days, i.e. by November 3, 2004 of specifically named political prisoners, consisting of women, minors, ailing and elderly.
Except in the case of a very few who won rare acquittals in court, bulk of the 300 political prisoners supposed to be processed for release by the Gloria Arroyo regime were only passed on to the current Aquino regime, who, instead of continuing with the processing for their release, declared that there are no political prisoners in the country. The current Aquino regime even added another half to the number of political prisoners it inherited from the Gloria Arroyo regime.
Upon resuming the peace talks with the NDFP on 14 February 2011 up to now, the current Aquino regime still has not even released the 30 women, minors, ailing and elderly political prisoners agreed upon by the NDFP and GPH peace panels way back in 2004.
Four of the minors in the list — Taufic Muner, then aged 14; Bimbas Abubakar, then aged 14; Omar Galo, then aged 16 and Jammang Palili, then aged 17 — are all still detained at the SICA, Camp Bagong Diwa. There are further eight more political prisoners who were minors when arrested and still detained at SICA, Camp Bagong Diwa. Included among them are Grego Guevarra and Reynaldo De los Santos, who were only 17 years old when arrested and detained by the current Aquino regime for more than two years ago to just several months ago.
Another stark phenomenon, especially at the SICA, Camp Bagong Diwa, is the big number of ailing and elderly political prisoners, most of whom have been detained for about a dozen years or more already. Because of their overly long detention already; the poor cramped conditions; poor food rations; lack of medical attention; and the indifferent treatment and severe restrictions they have been undergoing in jail, they have suffered and continue to suffer further deteriorations of their health.
A number of these have died in prison. One of the latest death at the SICA, Camp Bagong Diwa (last “Good Friday”, 29 March) was that of Intong Amirol, past 70 years, who suffered a hypertensive stroke more than two years ago and became totally paralyzed and bedridden since then, was not brought to any hospital or given adequate medical attention, and had to totally rely on his cellmates for full-time caregiving. His family could not assist him at all or even just visit him as they are poor and too far away. State authorities were asked to release him, as his precarious health condition could surely only deteriorate further in jail, and as his further detention was not only inhuman but also illegal, since he was already past 70 and, in the first place, he is totally innocent of the charges against him. He was actually a victim of intentional “mistaken identity” as he was arrested, detained and charged as another person (a certain “Intong Aninol”, supposedly of the Abu Sayyaf Group). But the indifferent state did nothing about all these. This indifference killed him.
Another case of a political prisoner, who also unfortunately suffered a lot and died because of the indifference of prison authorities, was that of Alison Alcantara, who had been seriously suffering since early September and who his fellow-political prisoners at the New Bilibid Prison has asked the jail authorities to immediately bring him to a hospital. The jail authorities, however, refused and only did brought him to a public hospital when he collapsed and fell unconscious after six more days of suffering. It was too late and he died from complications from diabetes, pneumonia, infections and other ailments.
A number of other elderly and ailing political prisoners need not only immediate and medical attention, but also the return of the freedom deprived of them. These include Ramon Argente, who had to go through a heart by-pass operation; Alvin Langlang, who has suffered paralysis from the waist down due to brain injury; Vanessa delos Reyes, who is paralyzed from waist down; Miguela Piñero, who has long been suffering from thyroid and spinal problem; Felicardo Salamat, who has also been suffering from spinal problems.
We, political prisoners, whose existence the current Aquino regime keeps on denying and the demand for whose release has long been an issue, are heartened by the Caravan para sa Kalayaan’s call for our release, including the urgent release of women, minors, elderly and ailing political prisoners.
The call for the release of political prisoners need further to be raised again and again, and echoed widely through various sectors of society to be able to penetrate the thick and tough buffers of the present ruling state and regime.
All advocates of freedom, justice, human rights and the betterment of society need to press on and further intensify the campaign until it eventually bears fruition the face of the prevailing state and regime’s indifference at present.