MANILA, Philippines — During the height of severe flooding brought by the tropical storm “Maring”-enhanced southwest monsoon, schools, corporations and ordinary citizens who spared the worst of the calamity responded swiftly to the needs of those who were affected, mobilizing in government offices, covered courts, even private homes to donate and repack relief goods for deployment.
But locked away within the Special Intensive Care Area of Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, 27 political detainees, people deemed “enemies of the state” and “high risk” threats to national security, also responded as soon as they of the disaster unfolding in the “outside.”
They pooled their earnings from the handicrafts they make and donated these through the human rights organization Karapatan, which, with allied organizations like Selda or the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto, and Hustisya or Victims United for Justice, regularly visits and assists them.
The donation of the political prisoners went to a community in Manila’s Sampaloc district that had been hard-hit by the floods.
The detainees spend much of their days crafting everything from replica jeepneys, tissue holders and pen holders from folded strips of telephone directory pages; to greeting cards with pressed dried flowers; taking sacks apart and weaving these into hammocks.
They concede using rope to make the hammocks would be a lot easier except that this is not allowed inside the detention center.
Their handicrafts sell from P50 to P800 each, the earnings supplementing their meager food rations, buying medicines and personal needs and, yes, supporting their families.
And while they did need the money, this time, other people just needed it more.
Alan Jazmines, consultant of the National Democratic Front and, according to the government a ranking officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines, said the disaster was so widespread that it was shocking.
Jazmines, who has been detained since February 14, 2011, said he considered himself lucky to have family, friends, and former classmates who send money every now and then to support his needs in jail. So why not share with the flood victims what others have shared with him?
This was the same sentiment that prompted his fellow “poldets” — six of them toa cell — to donate to the flood victims.
Voltaire Guray, a peasant organizer, said it was important to take action and not leave the relief efforts solely in the hands of the government.
Charity did seem to agree with him, as he seemed to be in good spirits even if the rains cancelled a hearing of his case scheduled for August 20.
His last hearing had been in March.
The 27-year-old has been detained for a year and eight months on charges of illegal possession of explosives and ammunition, which he denies.
He spends his days doing human rights-themed paintings, aside from fashioning craft works from telephone directory pages.
Through their products, he hopes people on the “outside” become conscious that there are political prisoners in the country.
He said he feels no shame being in jail as he was not imprisoned for committing a crime but for his political beliefs and asserts that the charges against him were “made up.”
He wishes, however, that the wheels of justice would turn more swiftly for him and his fellow detainees, who he says are innocent of the crimes they are accused of committing, except for fighting for the rights of others.
Jazmines said it was ironic that the Aquino government does not recognize the existence of political prisoners, despite previous administrations since the time of then President Fidel Ramos doing the opposite.
In fact, he said former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo even promised to look into the cases of 300 political prisoners, who included 32 women, minors, elderly, and the sick, who were set to be released in 2001.
However, four of them are still in Camp Bagong Diwa; a fifth died in prison.
Detained thrice — twice during Martial Law for subversion, and currently for rebellion and 13 counts of murder — Jazmines, a former Asian Institute of Management professor and steel industry manager, says he and his fellow political detainees are being held “hostage to the peace talks” between communist rebels and the government, their release dependent on whether stalled negotiations move forward again.
But while jail may have robbed them of their physical freedom, it has not doused their desire to help their fellowmen.