Lira Dalangin-Fernandez | InterAksyon.com
MANILA, Philippines — The hospitalization of lawyer Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes for a panic attack she suffered over fears of being detained with suspected communist rebels proves the government’s double standards in dealing with prisoners, rights activists and lawyers said Friday.
The Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto, which advocates political prisoners’ rights, noted that there are around 50 ailing detainees, a number of them elderly, who languish in jail without proper medical care, and that some have, in fact, died because of this.
Among the most recent cases are the deaths of the daughter of Andrea Rosal, incarcerated although she was eight months pregnant when she was arrested, soon after she was born in May, Bilibid prisoner Allison Alcantara who was rushed to the Philippine General Hospital only after he went into a coma from which he did not recover in September last year, and Crisanto Fat who died of a heart attack in a Negros Occidental jail.
Rosal, daughter of the late communist rebel spokesman Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal, was cleared of kidnapping with murder charges by the Pasic regional trial court but remains detained because of a pending murder charge before a court in Quezon province.
Reyes, who is accused with her former boss, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, of plunder and graft over the pork barrel scam, was admitted to the Taguig-Pateros Hospital late Tuesday night as she was being transferred to the female dormitory of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City on orders of the Sandiganbayan.
She has filed a motion for reconsideration of her commitment order, citing concerns over being locked up with nine alleged female rebels.
“Whether true or imagined sickness, Gigi Reyes’ swift hospitalization without need of a court order is another showcase of the government’s soft spot for those accused of plunder,” SELDA spokesman Jigs Clamor said.
He noted that it takes a month, on the average, for courts to process motions filed by political detainees to undergo medical examinations.
On the other hand, Rosal’s lawyer Edre Olalia said Reyes appeared “out of touch with reality and seems delusional” and suggested it might do Enrile’s chief of staff good to actually know and talk to the political prisoners.
Reyes was a known student activist when she studied at the University of the Philippines.
“If she sees her own demons in the company of principled, rational and dignified political prisoners she pejoratively labels as NPAs (New People’s Army) all, then she should really seek some professional help. They should not be the ones in jail in the first place,” Olalia, who is also secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, said.
“She might be jolted and humbled if she eventually discovers that these people she disdains and looks down at could probably be the most simple, humane, merciful and selfless people she could find. She might even be enlightened what the proximate cause is of the decrepit, filthy, infernal and squalid little hells we call jails,” he added.
“If contrived or feigned, then this is comical. If real, then by all means, let a doctor see her and give her immediate, necessary and appropriate medical care. But the rich and famous are not the only children of a greater god,” Olalia said of Reyes’ panic attack.
He also suggested a “medical convention of experts to validate the direct correlation between detention and worrisome illnesses and health disorders that affect only the rich. This is alarming already.”
SELDA said it holds “a long list of political prisoners who need proper medical attention,” and named some of them as:
Benny Barid – Pale and very thin, he is suffering from chronic asthma. After suffering from a series of asthma attacks, he has been in and out at the NBP Infirmary. He cannot stand up by himself and needs a wheelchair for mobility. Fellow political prisoners support his medical needs. His prolonged stay at the NBP Hospital makes him more vulnerable to various diseases.
Rolando Pañamogan – In 2009, he was admitted twice, first at the NBP Hospital, and second at the Philippine General Hospital. He was diagnosed with thyroid dysfunction and pneumonia related to tuberculosis. He recovered from the said illnesses but was later diagnosed with hepatitis B and diabetes. His diabetes and asthma need more than first aid.
The Alegre couple, Jesus and Moreta – both in their late 60s, are languishing in jail for almost 10 years now. The elderly couple’s imprisonment has made them sickly. Both are suffering from hypertension and arthritis. Moreta has a weak heart and moves very slowly. Their imprisonment has separated them from each other — Jesus and Selman are at the NBP Maximum Security Compound in Muntinlupa, while Moreta is at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City.
Gerardo dela Peña, 75 – Despite his age, he was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment last year due to trumped-up charges of murder. After his arrest on March 2013, it took the court only 10 months to pin down Dela Peña. At his old age, his eyes are blurring. He also has poor hearing. He is detained at the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) Reception and Diagnostic Center, awaiting transfer to the NBP Maximum Security Compound.
Ramon Argente – had a triple heart bypass operation in 2013. After the surgery, he was brought back to detention at the PNP Custodial Center. He remains in fragile condition, as he still experiences difficulty in breathing and chest pains. Argente was undergoing medication when he was arrested. His health worsened while detained at the Camarines Norte Provincial Jail. It took six months before his motion for hospitalization was granted.
Rights group SELDA (Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto), with relatives and friends of political prisoners held a caravan today from the Quezon City Memorial Circle to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City in an urgent call to free elderly and ailing political prisoners on humanitarian grounds.
“They shouldn’t be in jail in the first place, but they are jailed on trumped up charges. They suffered from torture and other violations of their rights as prisoners. They are denied freedom, and some die of sickness in the long course of their detention. The ailing and the elderly should be released soon while they are still alive,” said Jigs Clamor, SELDA national coordinator.
According to SELDA, political prisoners, like ordinary inmates, suffer from subhuman prison conditions. “They are cramped in congested cells. They receive poor and inadequate health services. Their prolonged detention makes them vulnerable to more serious health conditions,” said Clamor.
Clamor cited the case of Alison Alcantara, who went into a coma on September 4 at the New Bilibid Prisons after suffering from complications to diabetes. “But he was transferred to the Philippine General Hospital only after three days,” said Clamor, “his life could have been saved if there was sufficient medical care right from the beginning.” Alcantara died on September 18.
As of August 2013, there are 449 political prisoners detained in various detention centers all over the country, 48 of them are ailing while 28 are elderly (60 years old and above).
“The low quality and insufficient medical care that the government provides endangers the lives of political prisoners. The P50 a day food budget is very little. Their condition is no different from the lives of people outside prison. Jails and detention centers are barely habitable, unsafe and hazardous to the health and general well-being of prisoners,” Clamor explained.
From Quezon City Memorial Circle, the caravan stopped at the gates of Camp Crame, where four political prisoners, namely Renante Gamara, Eduardo Serrano, Eduardo Sarmiento and Ramon Argente are detained.
Gamara, Serrano, and Sarmiento are peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines who are covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity guarantees of the GPH and the NDFP. Meanwhile, Ramon Argente, a peasant organizer from Bicol, was recently transferred at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame after undergoing triple by-pass surgery. He was previously detained at the Camarines Norte Provincial Jail.
“Even if his surgery is successful, he will recover better outside prison. Why endanger his life again after surviving this ordeal? The least the government can do with his condition is to free him,” Clamor said.
Alongside the caravan, artists and church workers visited the four political prisoners at Camp Crame as part of the “KA-KAUSA” solidarity visits to political prisoners in the Philippines. The group is composed of writers and visual artists, including cultural worker and former political prisoner Ericson Acosta. Poetry and songs were shared in a brief cultural program. The visitors also brought donated art materials for the political prisoners.
The caravan proceeded to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), to call for the resumption of the peace talks between the NDFP and the GPH. According to SELDA, the continued detention of NDF peace consultants and other political prisoners is a hindrance to the resumption to the talks.
The caravan’s last stop was at Camp Bagong Diwa (CBD), where the majority of political prisoners are detained, both at the Metro Manila District Jail-Main, Special Intensive Care Area-Metro Manila District Jail (SICA-MMDJ) and the Taguig City Jail- Female Dorm. A brief program was held at the gates of the CBD where political prisoners released a statement of solidarity in the call to immediately release the eldery and those who are sick among them. ###
Reference: Jigs Clamor, SELDA national coordinator, 0917-5965859
Decades after the Martial Law years, the Philippines continues to face the grim reality of the existence of political prisoners. Whether under the fascist Marcos dictatorship or “democratic” administrations after him, the rights of political prisoners are repeatedly violated as they are slapped with fabricated charges, arbitrarily arrested and illegally detained. Many of them are tortured and denied their right to counsel and due process. They suffer subhuman prison conditions and prolonged imprisonment,and intentionally slowed down judicial process.
We are calling for the immediate release of political prisoners on humanitarian grounds, which include the ailing and the elderly (60 years old and above). As of August 2013, there are 449 political prisoners in different detention centers all over the country. 154 of them were arrested under the Noynoy Aquino government, a significantly large number for an administration that denies the existence of political prisoners. There are 48 ailing political prisoners that need medical attention, while 28 prisoners belong to the elderly and 35 are women.
The poor and inadequate health services that the government provides endanger the lives of the relatively more vulnerable sick and elderly political prisoners. The meager budget allotted to prison inmates makes jails and detention centers barely habitable, unsafe and hazardous to the health and general well-being of prisoners. Keeping the sick and elderly political prisoners longer in prison leads to serious health complications that could be life-threatening.
Take the case of Alison Alcantara, 55, who suffered from uncontrolled diabetes the past years and recently died of pneumonia, sepsis and fatal arrhythmia after falling into a coma at the New Bilibid Prisons. Ramon Argente, 53, from the Camarines Norte Provincial Jail has just undergone a triple heart by-pass at the Philippine Heart Center. Bringing him back to prison will not in any way help in his speedy recovery, aside from the fact that his detention has been a violation of his rights since day one when he was arrested without warrant on a variety of trumped-up charges.
And who are the the political prisoners? They are activists, farmers and workers, students, professionals, cultural workers. Just recently, a physicist and activist, Kim Gargar, was arrested and detained in Mati, Davao Oriental while performing his work as a scientist. The military now feasts on tagging him as a member of the New People’s Army. Red-tagging and vilification against political prisoners by state security forces have become standard fare to justify the political prisoners’ continued detention and stripping of their rights.
To obfuscate the political nature of the offenses attributed to government critics and people resisting administration policies and programs that harm the majority of the people, criminal charges are filed against them, usually with insufficient or planted evidence. There is no place for political prisoners in a country supposedly democratic and treading a “righteous path.”
Please join the families and friends of political prisoners, human rights advocates and SELDA, the organization of former political detainees, in the campaign to FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS. In the immediate, let us all work for the release on humanitarian grounds of the sick and elderly political prisoners.
MARIE HILAO-ENRIQUEZ, chairperson, SELDA (Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto)
Pinning their high hopes on the successful operation of one political prisoner today, rights group SELDA said that “best prescription” the Aquino government can give is to free political prisoners who suffer from serious ailments.
Ramon Argente, 53, a peasant organizer from Bicol, is scheduled for a triple bypass surgery today at the Philippine Heart Center. As of this writing, his family and SELDA are still asking for help to complete the huge amount needed for operation expenses.
“It is with extreme disappointment that the family is raising the needed amount whereas, by all means, these should be shouldered by the state. The amount of money cannot even be compared to what the government is spending to take care of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and multi-billion scammer Janet Lim-Napoles. We pay for every single centavo to save lives of plunderers and wrongdoers, while we let those wrongly accused die from crimes they did not even commit. This is injustice at the very core,” Clamor said.
Argente is one of the 48 ailing political prisoners that need proper and immediate medical attention, according to SELDA.
“By deliberately denying proper medical treatment on ailing political detainees, the Aquino government is like putting them on death row,” said Clamor.
Argente, along with union organizers Randy Vegas and Raul Camposano, were charged with several and varying counts of murder, theft and frustrated murder before the Regional Trial Court Branch 64 in Labo, Camarines Norte. A total of 32 individuals were included in the said charges, where four have been arrested including Vegas, Camposano and Argente.
“Argente, among other political prisoners, has not been even proven guilty of the trumped-up charges filed against them. His rights, along with his co-accused have been violated since day one of arrest. They were arrested without warrant, held incommunicado for days after their arrest, and denied of counsel – all of which are violations to their right to due process, liberty and security,” Clamor said.
SELDA previously announced the death of a political prisoner, Alison Alcantara, who died last month due to diabetes complications.
“We are enraged at the double standard treatment of inmates under the Aquino administration. Political prisoners who are victims of false and trumped-up charges are treated like dirt in prison facilities. While, according to them, those who skimmed government funds with the collaborations of certain high government officials are given with the most elaborate security, high food allowances, air-conditioned rooms, regular monitoring of medical status, easy communication with the outside world, liberal visiting procedures, among other privileges. Surely, this is how the government treats one of its own – in a crook’s prison haven, while political prisoners rot in like hell prison holes.” SELDA national coordinator Jigs Clamor said.
Clamor added that by continuously denying them to be treated immediately and properly given medical care, the government is endangering more lives of political prisoners. According to SELDA, ailing political prisoners are more vulnerable inside prison.
SELDA is calling on the release of all sick and elderly political prisoners on humanitarian grounds, including those who have served a long time in prison. They are also demanding that higher budget be allotted for services provided to the people, including better healthcare for prisoners and the people. ###
Reference: Jigs Clamor, SELDA National Coordinator, 0917-5965859
Rights group SELDA said that by deliberately denying proper medical treatment on ailing political detainees, the Aquino government is “putting them on death row.”
This is all in a stark contrast of what the Aquino is treating Janet Lim-Napoles, an accused plunderer involved in multi-billion pork scams, now billeted in Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa City enjoying the comfort and amenities of the rich and (in)famous, according to the group.
“We are enraged at the double standard treatment of inmates under the Aquino administration. Political prisoners who are victims of false and trumped-up charges are treated like dirt in prison facilities. While, according to them, those who skimmed government funds with the collaborations of certain high government officials are given with the most elaborate security, high food allowances, air-conditioned rooms, regular monitoring of medical status, easy communication with the outside world, liberal visiting procedures, among other privileges. Surely, this is how the government treats one of its own – in a crook’s prison haven, while political prisoners rot in hellish prison holes.” SELDA national coordinator Jigs Clamor said.
Clamor added that by continuously denying them to be treated immediately and properly given medical care, the government is endangering more lives of political prisoners. Many of them, according to SELDA, have medical conditions that, if left untreated, are vulnerable to more serious complications of diseases.
SELDA is calling for immediate attention as another political prisoner, peasant organizer Ramon Argente, 53, needs an immediate coronary artery bypass surgery to save him from coronary heart disease. He is confined at the Philippine Heart Center since September 26.
“Argente, among other political prisoners, has not been even proven guilty of the trumped-up charges filed against them. His rights, along with his co-accused have been violated since day one of arrest. They were arrested without warrant, held incommunicado for days after their arrest, and denied of counsel – all of which are violations to their right to due process, freedom and safety,” Clamor said.
Argente, along with union organizers Randy Vegas and Raul Camposano, have been charged with several and varying counts of murder, theft and frustrated murder before the Regional Trial Court Branch 64 in Labo, Camarines Norte. A total of 32 individuals were included in the said charges, where four have been arrested including Vegas, Camposano and Argente.
The charges are said to be in connection with their alleged participation in an ambush by the New People’s Army (NPA) against the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Maot, Labo, Camarines Norte in the eastern part of Luzon, April 29.
Millions for plunderers, centavos for political prisoners
The group also decried the continuous denial of the government to pay for the hospitalization expenses of political prisoners. For heart bypass alone, Clamor said that the family of Argente is asked to raise around Php700,000.00.
“By all means, these should be shouldered by the state. This amount cannot even be compared to what the government is spending to take care of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Napoles. We pay for every single centavo to save lives of plunderers and wrongdoers, while we let those wrongly accused die from crimes they did not even commit. This is injustice at the very core,” Clamor said.
Argente is one of the 48 ailing political prisoners that need proper and immediate medical attention, according to SELDA. One of them, Alison Alcantara, died last month due to fatal arrhytmia, sepsis and health associated pneumonia.
“His life could have been saved if only he was accorded of his rights to healthcare as a prisoner,” Clamor said.
SELDA is calling on the release of all sick and elderly political prisoners on humanitarian grounds, including those who have served a long time in prison.
“This is also the reason why SELDA joins the growing movement for the abolition of all forms of pork barrel. The government should allot and re-channel the pork barrel funds to improve prison conditions in detention centers all over the country, among other basic social services which should be provided to the people,” Clamor said. ###
Reference: Jigs Clamor, SELDA National Coordinator, 0917-5965859
Political prisoner Alison Alcantara, 55, died of multiple organ failure, on Sept. 18 after he fell into coma and was rushed to the Philippine General Hospital from the New Bilibid Prison on Sept. 9.
“Alcantara’s death reflects the difference between how the Aquino government treats the political prisoners –those who were imprisoned because they sided with the oppressed and exploited poor Filipinos—and those who plundered the nation’s coffers and enriched themselves using the entire government bureaucracy,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.
Alcantara was diagnosed with severe sepsis due to pneumonia and diabetes type 2. On Sept. 4, Alcantara was rushed to the emergency room of the New Bilibid Prisons hospital when his blood sugar and blood pressure rose. He had been going in and out of the New Bilibid Prisons hospital due to uncontrolled diabetes with complications of hypertension, and an infected wound on the left foot.
The persistent request of the Alcantara’s family and the Samahan ng Ex-detainees laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) to immediately transfer Alcantara to PGH, and to eventually release him on humanitarian grounds, was rejected by the Bureau of Corrections. BuCor insisted they can manage Alcantara’s illness.
“We can’t help but compare the ‘special’ care and kindness Malacañang extended to Janet Napoles and with how it treats the political prisoners. While Napoles has her own doctor who regularly monitors her blood pressure and sugar level, the 48 political prisoners who have long been suffering from illnesses receive inadequate and insufficient medical attention, leading to such cases as Alcantara,” Palabay said.
Political prisoners today issued a statement to highlight their situation, saying “while Napoles is in a bungalow at Fort Sto. Domingo, political prisoners, are crammed in a small cell, with 500 other inmates; while Napoles eats ham, egg, and fuits for breakfast, sinigang na bangus for lunch, and pinakbet for dinner on a Php150 daily food budget, political prisoners make do with one cup of lugaw for breakfast, one cup of rice and dried fish for lunch, and boiled fish for dinner on a PhP50 a day budget.”
As of August 30, 2013, Karapatan has documented 449 political prisoners in the country today; 154 of them were arrested and detained under the Aquino government, mostly on trumped up criminal charges.
Break free from pork
Also today, the political prisoners, held various forms of protest actions in various jails in solidarity with the Filipino people’s call to abolish the pork barrel system, and to rechannel public funds to services that can be accessed directly by the most needy sectors of society.
Political prisoners’ action ranged from noise barrage, fasting, wearing of armbands with “no to pork barrel” slogan, distribution of leaflets among inmates.
Detained NDFP consultants at Camp Crame launched VIP (Victims of Injustice and Plunder) Prisoners’ Protest PORKsong Revival Fest and PORKsters vs. Corruption Contest to give venue to the creativity of political prisoners to express their experiences and aspirations for freedom from detention and, for freedom of the Filipino people from exploitation and oppression.
In support of the detainees’ action, Karapatan and Selda put up a booth at Plaza Miranda where people may sign the petition to abolish pork, and to highlight the plight of the 449 political prisoners all over the country.
Lira Dalangin-Fernandez | InterAksyon.com
MANILA, Philippines — A human rights organization urged government to release on humanitarian grounds a political prisoner fighting for his life at the Philippine General Hospital.
The Samahan ng mga Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto or SELDA said Alison Alcantara, 55, was transferred to the PGH from the New Blilibid Prison after he went into a coma on September 9.
Diagnosed with severe sepsis due to pneumonia and diabetes type 2, Alcantara is now breathing through a respirator.
“We knew this would happen to Alcantara and all the political prisoners who are in the same situation as his. The harsh condition inside the jail definitely worsens the ailments of the detainees,” Angie Ipong, SELDA secretary general, said.
Ipong said she could not help comparing Alcantara’s condition to that of Janet Lim-Napoles, who allegedly engineered the P10-billion pork barrel scam queen, who is detained at a police training facility in Laguna.
“It is enraging to see that multi-billion plunderer Napoles, also a diabetic, enjoys the privilege of full medical attention, nutritious and proper diet and, spacious bungalow while political prisoners like Alcantara hangs on to his life as his family and friends tries to find money to buy much needed medicine,” she said.
Alcantara was admitted to the PGH as a charity patient, “but his family still needs money to buy his medicines, pay for some laboratory fees and for the use of respirator. The respirator alone costs P2,400 for every 24-hour use,” Ipong said.
Alcantara’s fellow political prisoners at the NBP had requested his transfer to PGH as early as September 3 but they were refused by jail authorities.
He had been suffering from uncontrolled diabetes complicated by hypertension and an infected wound on his left foot, and had been in and out of the NBP hospital for his condition.
He was last admitted there on September 4, when his blood sugar and blood pressure rose.
Alcantara is one of the 48 ailing political prisoners that SELDA said need proper and adequate medical attention.
He was detained at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in 1996 for charges of murder, double frustrated murder and illegal possession of firearms.
He was released in 2004 with two others as part of the confidence-building measures for peace talks between the government and National Democratic Front.
However, he was rearrested on November 5, 2010 on what SELDA calls the same trumped up charges and transferred to the NBP maximum security compound March 10 this year.
Other political prisoners who are with serious health condition are: Alvin Lauglaug who is paralyzed from the waist down because of a brain injury prior to his arrest in Poblacion Lianga, Surigao Sur on May 2, 2011. Lauglaug is detained at the Surigao City District Jail.
Hors d’ Combat Vanessa de los Reyes, a 28-year old woman paralyzed from the neck down after she was seriously wounded in a 2011 encounter between the military and New People’s Army in Davao Oriental. Charged with four counts of frustrated murder, she is currently under hospital arrest and heavily guarded by members of the Philippine Army.
The Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA), an organization of former political prisoners today demanded the release of Alison Alcantara, 52, a political prisoner who is confined at the New Bilibid Prison Hospital for almost a week now.
According to Dr. Edelina dela Paz, vice-chairperson of Health Action for Human Rights, an organization of health professionals, health workers and students rendering medical services to victims of human rights violations, who visited Alcantara yesterday at the New Bilibid Prison Hospital, Alcantara is suffering from uncontrolled diabetes with complications of hypertension and infected wound in the left foot.
“Alcantara was among the three political prisoners in Cebu who were released in 2004 when the GRP agreed to release 32 political prisoners as part of confidence-building measures during the 3rd round of peace talks with NDFP in Oslo, Norway. Alison was formerly detained at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in 1996 to face trial for “murder, double frustrated murder and illegal possession of firearms all criminal charges to hide the political nature of Alison’s case. He was re-arrested on 5 November 2010 on the same trumped up charges,” said Jigs Clamor, SELDA national coordinator.
Alcantara is one of the more than 50 ailing political prisoners in the country languishing in prison at present. Under the Aquino regime, there are more than 400 political prisoners all over the country. Of these, 326 were arrested and detained during the Oplan Bantay Laya of the former Gloria Arroyo regime. In the three years of the Aquino regime, on the other hand, 293 were arrested and detained under the counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan.
“We demand the Noynoy Aquino government to direct the immediate release of all political prisoners especially those who are sick. There is no other best prescription to get rid of their illnesses but to release them immediately on humanitarian grounds. For as long as they remain in jails, their illnesses would only worsen given the rudimentary and harsh prison conditions,” Clamor concluded. ###