MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 3:23 p.m.) Political prisoners began a fast Friday that will last until Monday, when President Benigno Aquino III delivers his fifth State of the Nation Address, the human rights organization Karapatan said.
Joining the fast are detainees in Camp Crame, who include Benito Tiamzon, alleged chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines, his wife Wilma Austria, and National Democratic Front consultants Eduardo Serrano and Renante Gamara; the New Bilibid Prison; and the Taguig City jail’s female dormitory at Camp Bagong Diwa, where Andrea Rosal, daughter of the late rebel spokesman Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal, is incarcerated.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said the fast was meant to underscore the political prisoners’ “disgust” with the Aquino administration.
The Taguig detainees are also expected to stage a march inside the jail compound to protest “Aquino’s misuse of public funds through the creation of DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program),” key provisions of which the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional.
“Ang patuloy na pagdepensa at pagtatanggol ng papet na rehimeng US-Aquino sa kasuklam-suklam na paglustay ng salapi mula sa kabang yaman ng bansa, dapat itong panagutin sa pamamagitan ng pagsasampa ng kasong kriminal, pagpapatalsik sa pwesto at paglalagay sa loob ng piitan,” (The continued defense of the US-Aquino regime of the disgusting plunder of public coffers should be held to account through criminal prosecution, ouster and jail),” a statement from the Taguig detainees said.
Also on Friday, Karapatan and the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto staged protest actions at Camp Crame and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process to demand the release of political prisoners and the punishment of plunderers.
“The detention of activists and those perceived as ‘enemies of the state’ and their condition inside jails poses a stark contrast with how the BS Aquino treats the plunderers, especially the beneficiaries (and) defenders of the presidential pork. It is Aquino’s way of asserting his ‘ignorance’ in the said crime,” Palabay said in a statement.
At the OPAPP protest, Karapatan questioned the DAP funds given to the agency, P1.819 billion in 2011 and P248 million the next year, aside from its regular budget.
“Is the OPAPP deliberately evading public scrutiny by not including their proposed projects for proper allocation in the GAA? Did they find DAP as a way to evade scrutiny for the large amount of money that goes to OPAPP?” Palabay said.
She cited OPAPP’s acknowledgment that the 2012 funds were not included in the list of DAP-funded projects released by Malacanang.
At the same time, she said the huge outlay to the OPAPP, “supposedly spent for the peace initiatives of the government did not translate in concrete gains for the people. At best, only allies of the administration benefited from the DAP funds.”
Palabay derided the government’s peace initiatives as “a business venture rather than a sincere effort to go into the root causes of the armed conflict and solve poverty, landlessness and joblessness.”
She also blasted the P264 million given to the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army and the P31 million to the Revolutionary Proletarian Army, former rebel groups that signed peace pacts with government but which the Karapatan official said had transformed into “paramilitary groups” accused of human rights abuses.
“The peace process should serve the interests of the majority of our people and not just a few groups that sow terror,” she said. “Through DAP the money stolen from the people are used against them. With OPAPP, it becomes worse as paying lip service to the peace process only denies the people of a venue where their basic social and economic problems can be discussed and solved.”
“They cannot imprison the artist and the activist, in as much as they cannot imprison their struggle for just and lasting peace.”
An art exhibit featuring the works of political prisoners opens today at the lobby of the National Housing Authority. Titled “Artworks from Confined Spaces,” the exhibit features some of the works of political prisoners at the Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City and New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City.
“Some of them began drawing or painting outside prison. Most of them were able to hone their talents while facing the hardships inside the walls of prison,” said Ilagan.
They are a combination of young and old political prisoners who were able to gather a collection of their works while inside different detention centers.
“They face various trumped-up charges, a far cry from their lifetime commitment to struggle for justice and democracy. It is such an injustice that they are robbed of their youth, they are denied of their freedom. Through this exhibit, let us see through the eyes of the political prisoners. As they say, we are inside the larger prison of society,” Ilagan said.
Featured political prisoners are peace consultants for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines Tirso Alcantara, Alan Jazmines and Eduardo Sarmiento; youth activists-turned-peasant organizers Voltaire Guray, Reynaldo delos Santos, Hermogenes Reyes and Sandino Esguerra.
There are currently 482 political prisoners in the country. More than a hundred of them were arrested on trumped-up criminal charges under the Aquino government. The exhibit aims to echo the call to free all political prisoners.
Guray, one of the political prisoners, said he and his fellow political prisoners hope that their works will be seen by many people. “Ang mga likhang sining ang sisimbolo para ipaabot ang tuloy-tuloy naming pakikibaka kasama ang malawak na sambayanan sa labas ng bilangguan. Ito rin ang maghahatid ng aming kalagayan at karanasan, at ang kabulukan ng sistema sa loob ng bilangguan. Ang aming sining ay patuloy na maglilingkod sa sambayanan (The artworks symbolizes our continuing struggle with the broad masses of the people outside prison. These also portray our situation and experiences, and the rotten system inside prison. Our art will continue to serve the people).”
The exhibit is a joint effort of the NHA Employees Union, the Confederation of Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), Concerned Artist of the Philippines (CAP), Bayan Muna, KARAPATAN and SELDA. It will run from May 30 to June 6. ###
Reference: Bonifacio Ilagan, SELDA vice-chairperson 0908-8124781
Photos by: Emmanuel Halabaso
Day before the exhibit 🙂
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)
February 7, 2013
After poet-artist Acosta’s release
SELDA demands Aquino to release sickly, elderly political prisoners
Following the release from detention of poet-artist Ericson Acosta on Tuesday, rights group SELDA (Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto) demanded the Aquino government to free elderly and sick political prisoners.
“We welcome the release of Acosta, finally, after two years of detention. What remains true is that no person should be held in detention, charged with trumped-up cases, and stripped of his rights because of his political beliefs. We then demand the release of all sick and elderly political prisoners,” said SELDA secretary general Angie Ipong.
According to Ipong, sick and elderly political prisoners have double the reason to demand for freedom.
“Most of the time, sick political prisoners are not given the proper medical attention because of the lack of facilities in prison hospitals and lack of budget to provide health services to prisoners. To a certain extent, their being political prisoners is even used as flimsy excuse to be deprived of medical treatment,” Ipong said.
As for the elderly political prisoners, Ipong said there should be no question as to their release on humanitarian grounds.
Ipong, a political prisoner herself, was arrested at the age of 60. She was released six years after charges of murder against her were dismissed.
SELDA said there are currently 430 political prisoners in different jails nationwide, 148 of them were arrested and detained under the Aquino administration. The group documented some 45 political prisoners who are sick, while 12 of them are elderly prisoners, or those who are aged 60 and above.
“Cramped and poorly ventilated prison cells, poor water supply and inadequate food and nutrition worsen the state of health of political prisoners who suffer from various ailments. This, along with the fact they shouldn’t be detained because of their political beliefs, are more than enough grounds for their immediate release,” Ipong said.
Ipong cited the case Rolando Pañamogan, is only 47 but is now suffering from illnesses usually associated with old age. Pañamogan has been admitted to the NBP Hospital for a number of times.
“Doctors diagnosed him to have diabetes, hyperthyroidism and asthma. He manages to persist in his work as a political prisoner everyday but the truth remains that his medical condition is aggravated by prison conditions,” Ipong said.
Pañamogan is detained at the New Bilibid Prisons Maximum Security Compound was accused of being a member of the New People’s Army and was convicted of murder and frustrated murder.
Aside from Pañamogan, the Alegre family also hopes to be freed for humanitarian reasons. All three, father, mother and son, were imprisoned due to a land dispute with a local landlord in their town in Negros Occidental. Jesus, 67 and Moreta, 65 are both suffering from arthritis and hypertension. Moreta also has a weak heart.
“We are made to suffer for sins we did not commit. It’s because we don’t have money and power. We just want to live in tilling our small land. We want justice,” Jesus said in an interview. Father Jesus and son, Selman, are at the New Bilibid Prisons. Mother Moreta is at the Correctional Institute for Women. They are all imprisoned for eight years now.
SELDA hoped that Pañamogan, the Alegre family and other political prisoners shall also be given their well-deserved freedom.
“We then call on all those who supported the campaign to release Acosta to support the campaign to free all political prisoners. More political prisoners are detained for crimes they did not commit. We should make the Aquino government accountable for allowing such rights violations to continue,” Ipong ended. ###
Reference: Angelina Ipong, SELDA secretary general 0907-6114086
SELDA (Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto) hit the solitary confinement of political prisoner Sandino Esguerra, 43 years old when he was transferred to the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) Maximum Security Compound this week.
According to SELDA secretary general Angelina Ipong, Esguerra was transferred from the Metro Manila District Jail in Camp Bagong Diwa to the NBP on October 6, days after being convicted for two counts ofreclusion perpetua or lifetime imprisonment. After spending one whole day at the Reception and Diagnostic Center (RDC), a standard procedure for all prisoners, Esguerra was brought to a regular detention cell with fellow political prisoners.
“We learned, however, that he was taken out of regular prison in the evening of October 7, and was brought to a bartolina, for no clear reason at all,” Ipong said.
In a letter sent to the officer in charge at the Office of the Director of the Bureau of Corrections, Ipong demanded an explanation on Esguerra’s solitary confinement which, according to them is “highly irregular and violates his basic rights as a prisoner.”
Ipong said that, “we remind the New Bilibid Prisons officials that solitary confinement is strictly prohibited under Section 7 of the Republic Act 9745 (Anti-Torture Act of 2009) which, states that “Secret detention places, solitary confinement, incommunicado or other similar forms of detention, where torture may be carried out with impunity are hereby prohibited.”
“Esguerra has been in jail for 12 years now, on false charges such as double murder, robbery with arson and kidnapping. We believe this is another move to suppress his rights, knowing he is a political prisoner. Most political prisoners are criminalized to cover up the political nature of their so-called offenses,” she said.
The group demanded Esguerra’s immediate transfer to a regular prison. Ipong said they have also called the attention of Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on the matter. ###
Reference: Angie Ipong, Secretary General Contact Number: 09499587373