Rights groups, relatives demands release of 532 political prisoners

Published July 11, 2019, 11:05 PM

by CJ Juntereal

By Chito Chavez

Relatives of political prisoners and human rights advocates on Thursday demanded the government to release some 532 political prisoners languishing in jails across the country.

Photo courtesy of KARAPATAN Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN
Photo courtesy of KARAPATAN Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN

Karapatan deputy Secretary-General Roneo Clamor has echoed the call for the release of political prisoners on just and humanitarian grounds.

He noted that at present there are 532 political prisoners in the country with 209 of them arrested under the Duterte administration.

Despite the “government’s malicious efforts to brand them as criminals’’, Clamor said political prisoners are passionate, selfless and determined individuals who have lived and struggled alongside the marginalized.

He described them as “activists, advocates, trade unionists, peace consultants, development workers, teachers, church workers, and many more’’.

Out of the 532 political prisoners in the country, Clamor said 44 are elderly, 61 are women, 118 are sickly, five were minors when they were arrested and 10 are peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF.)

Aside from being slapped with unjust and false charges, Clamor said they are also subjected to inhumane conditions while incarcerated.

“Four political prisoners have died under Duterte. The cases of Bernabe Ocasla, 66, and Marcos Aggalao, 74, show how dire prison conditions have led to the deterioration of their health, especially if they have already been suffering various ailments prior to detention. Others have already been identified to be suffering serious illnesses, but have not been given immediate medical attention. There are hundreds of political prisoners that should now be released on just and humanitarian grounds,” explained Clamor, citing the cases of Ocasla, Aggalao, Romeroso and Arias.

Karapatan also highlighted the case of 20-year-old Ge-ann Perez who was illegally arrested last March 2019, along with NDF peace consultants Frank Fernandez, 71, and Cleofe Lagtapon, 66.

Ge-ann is a leprosy patient and for a time during her illegal arrest, treatment for her condition became irregular.

Aside from Ge-ann, Fernandez and Lagtapon are likewise both sickly, particularly Fernandez who suffers from chronic artery disease, chronic stable angina, among others.

All three were slapped with trumped up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, on top of murder charges filed against the two peace consultants.

Ge-ann has since appealed for her release to continue treatment for her condition.

Clamor also hit the “double standard” in the country’s justice system, which “ultimately favors the rich and sentences the poor into damnation.”

Clamor added: “The rich can simply pay their way out of jail. Sometimes, they don’t even get arrested despite a conviction! The poor and those deemed critics of the government, however, are made to suffer in jails for false and fabricated charges.”

“The arrest of critics, advocates, and rights defenders is part of a systematic plan to silence dissent. Fueled by policies such as the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA) and the government’s counterinsurgency program, the police and the military build expertise on planting evidence and weaponizing the law. Our country’s political prisoners remain stark indicators of the repression that the Filipino people are subjected to,” Clamor concluded.

On Wednesday, a picket was held as the world commemorates the Global Day of Action to Release all Political Prisoners.

Various coordinated actions across countries were launched to call for the release of political prisoners, as well as the dismissal of trumped-up charges.