Political prisoners begin hunger strike

Jul. 17, 2012

His mother, Cory Aquino, declared amnesty and unconditional release to all 441 political detainees during her term. Why can’t Pnoy do this? Is he going to forsake his mother’s legacy?” Fe Salino, Selda spokesperson

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — All 363 political prisoners in the country, 24 of them in Southern Mindanao, went on hunger strike starting Monday, at the onset of their weeklong protest.  About 500 inmates sympathized in ComVal jail and are also setting up a weeklong fasting and noise barrage.

A former political prisoner, Jessie said “I want other political prisoners to be released.”

“Jessie” was rescued last May 22 after his family asserted for his release from the military’s Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro City, a seven-hour ride from this city.

The Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division paraded him as New People’s Army’s (NPA) ‘child warrior’ after arbitrarily arresting him on May 8 at the evacuation center in New Visayas village in Trento, Agusan del Sur.  While gathering woods in their village’s forested area on May 7, he was hit with a stray bullet when government troops and communist rebels figured in an encounter.

“I was really afraid.  I was only relieved when they saved me from detention,” 17-year old “Jessie” (not his real name) told Davao Today.

“They were asking me if I’m an NPA and if I know other NPAs,” Jessie recounted soldiers asking him during his detention — a thing he doesn’t want to happen again, not even to other people.

“Jessie” joined members of Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda) in Southern Mindanao in Monday’s picket.

“The political prisoners have been languishing in jail, their cases pending for a long time.  They are suffering from low morale,” Fe Salino, Selda’s secretary general, said.

In Southern Mindanao, 24 political prisoners are detained in different detention facilities, based on Selda’s data.

There are 12 political detainees in Compostela Valley Provincial Rehabilitation Center; one in Southern Philippines Medical Center under hospital arrest (Vanessa delos Reyes); three in Maa City Jail; two in Davao Penal Colony; one in Mati-Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP); three in Digos-BJMP and two in Ammas Provincial Jail in  Kidapawan City.

Arrested thrice during Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorial rule and once during Cory Aquino’s administration, Salino said they are saddened that “cases of illegal detention among freedom fighters and human rights defenders continue.”  She said political prisoners are “maliciously charged with criminal offenses” and even to the point their presence “denied by the Aquino government.”

Malacañang spokesperson Edwin Lacierda has publicly announced that the country has no political prisoners, a thing reminiscent of the late Ferdinand Marcos’s statement during Martial Law.

However, lawyer Alberto Sipaco, Director of the Commission on Human Rights-XI, in a text message to Davao Today, said, “Per record, as of December last year, there are 24 reported political prisoners (in the region).  We have no data for 2012.”

Reacting to Lacierda’s statement, Sonny Mendoza, priest of the Missionaries of the Compassionate Heart of Jesus said, “It’s to justify that they can imprison a person for a criminal offense, rather than a political act.  A person can be filed with trumped-up charges.”

Mendoza asked why ordinary citizens are easily imprisoned, yet, “They can’t put into prison former General Jovito Palparan who’s a human rights violator and government officials like Ruben Ecleo and ex-Governor Joel and Mayor Mario who were accused of murder?  Why do they remain at large?”

Salino said, if Aquino won’t heed to their calls, they are right to say that “he is a cloned male version of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, potentially even worse than the fascist-dictator Ferdinand Marcos.”  She added, Aquino should consider releasing the political detainees since his father, the late Ninoy Aquino was also a former political detainee during Martial Law.

“His mother, Cory Aquino, declared amnesty and unconditional release to all 441 political detainees during her term.  Why can’t PNoy do this ?  Is he going to forsake his mother’s legacy?,” said Salino.

Selda, Kalumonan sa mga Binilanggong Pulitikal and human rights group Karapatan have been demanding the Aquino government for the general, unconditional release and omnibus amnesty for all Philippine political prisoners.

“There’s also a need to resume the peace negotiations (between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines),” Rev. Jurie Jaime, Karapatan spokesperson said.

He added that GPH has promised the NDFP that all political prisoners and NDFP consultants will be released in their previous talks.  While the NDFP has released its prisoners of war, the Aquino government has not reciprocated, Jaime noted.  (Marilou Aguirre-Tuburan/davaotoday.com)

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