On the occasion of International human rights day on the 10th of December 2016, Human Rights Matter (HRM) stands up for the rights of political prisoners and imprisoned human rights defenders in the Philippines.
Human Rights Matter is seriously concerned and alarmed to hear about the death of the detained political prisoner Bernabe Ocasla, who passed away on the November 25, 2016. As a peasant organizer in Catbalogan, Western Samar, Bernabe Ocasla was illegally arrested on December 31, 2007, and unjustly implicated on the trumped-up multiple murder charges. Having spent almost 9 years in jail, Ocasla has since been suffering from deafness, blindness in one eye, and severe hypertension.
It has come to our attention that as of October 31 2016, there are still 401 political prisoners in the country. Of the 401 detained, 130 are sickly, 33 are elderly, 33 are women, and 49 have been imprisoned for more than ten years. At least 296 of them were illegally arrested during the BS Aquino administration, while 15 were arrested during the Duterte administration.
In the past few months, when President Rodrigo R. Duterte expressed his willingness to release political prisoners through the proceedings of general amnesty, and resume the long-stalled peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines as early as May 2016, more than 500 political prisoners and their families were elated anticipating finally, at least a glimmer of hope that these arbitrarily targeted political prisoners will be released.
Just before Duterte assumed the presidency, there were 525 political prisoners, most of them detained for their political beliefs and solely on the ground of their active involvement as human rights defenders. Languishing in more than a hundred jails in the Philippines, 307 of them were illegally arrested and detained during the Aquino III administration. At least 117 of them are sick, including those with life-threatening ailments, and out of the 129 prisoners who have been detained for more than ten years, 45 are women and 47 are elderly.
The case of Maria Miradel as Woman human rights defender can be referenced as a typical example of this scenario. Maria Miradel Torres, 28, gave birth to her son while in detention. She was arrested in June 2014, while on her way to a hospital check-up. She was charged with trumped up cases of murder and frustrated murder, even if the military-backed witnesses spun some wild tale of having heard her name and supposed alias in an alleged encounter. Never mind if she showed proof that she was attending her child’s birthday party during the said incident.
On the other hand, Moreta Alegre, 70, Jesus Alegre, 70, and their son Selman Alegre, were wrongly convicted on false charges of murder when a landlord bore a grudge against them for helping organize farmers in their community. Moreta has a hypertensive cardiovascular disease, while Jesus has bouts with hypertension, having spent eleven years in prison for a crime they had not committed.
Guiller Cadano and Gerald Salonga, both 25, were fresh graduates of the country’s foremost state university when they conducted a research study on the impact of so-called development projects on farmers in Nueva Ecija province in 2014. They were abducted by the military, handcuffed, blindfolded and made to beg for their lives. Guns and explosives were planted in the house of a farmer where they were staying. Two years since their detention, and they are still in prison, for charges made up by the military against them.
These are among the Filipino political prisoners who suffer injustice to this day. All of them were charged and jailed by Philippine authorities based on trumped up criminal charges, related to the armed conflicts of the GRP with the NDFP and Moro movements. While there were nineteen (19) political prisoners released in line with the GRP-NDFP peace-talks in August 2016, there are many more political prisoners who long to spend this Christmas with their families. They have journeyed for too long.
We the HRM, as International Human Rights Organization, therefore, strongly urge and call the Philippines Government and Judiciary to:
- Immediately release all 401 political prisoners, particularly the sick, elderly, women, and those who have been incarcerated for more than 10 years.
- Uphold and implement its commitments in the first and second rounds of the GRP-NDFP formal peace-talks under the new administration.
- Mark on the occasion of International Human Rights day which is to be celebrated on the 10th of December 2016, by reaffirming the Republic of the Philippinesgovernment’s commitments for guaranteeing fundamental freedom and human rights in the Philippines for all and to stop the culture of impunity.