GRP accountable for death of ailing political prisoner

“Accountability on the death of political prisoner Bernabe Ocasla lies squarely on the Government of the Republic of the Philippines. Instead of immediately fulfilling its commitment to release all political prisoners, especially the ailing and elderly political prisoners, the Duterte administration, through its GRP peace panel, have spewed mere rhetorics instead of actually releasing them. We express our condolences with the family of Bernabe Ocasla. We mourn for yet another political prisoner who died in detention, because of the State’s continuing injustice against them,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan Secretary General. 

At 5:30pm today, peasant organizer Bernabe Ocasla, 66, suffered his third and fatal, cardiac arrest since Friday, November 25, when he was first brought to the Jose Reyes Memorial Hospital in Manila. He died instantly, after three days in coma. 

Ocasla was among the 401 political prisoners listed and submitted by Karapatan to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the GRP. He had hypertension, a condition which led to his cardiac arrest on November 25. 

“For months, the GRP, through Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza and GRP panel chairman Secretary Silvestre Bello III, have been announcing the release of political prisoners but so far only 19 has been released in line with the peacetalks. Pres. Duterte himself have said that political prisoners will be released through general amnesty, but to this date, more than 400 are still in jail,” Palabay stated. 

“As in the rest of the country, harsh jail conditions at the Manila City Jail, where Ocasla was detained, contributed to his medical condition. At least 130 political prisoners are suffering from various illnesses, many are life-threatening ones like Ocasla’s condition. This is the reason why their immediate release was crucial, for they could have better medical treatment outside jail,” Palabay further said.   

Ocasla is the first political prisoner who died while in detention under the Duterte administration. There are twelve (12) other political prisoners who suffered the same fate during the BS Aquino administration. 

These political prisoners died while under detention because of lack of proper medical attention and inhuman jail conditions: NDFP peace consultant Eduardo Serrano (Special Intensive Care Unit 1- Camp Bagong Diwa), Jose Andaya (Tinangis Penal Farm, Camarines Sur), Alison Alcantara and Benny Barid (New Bilibid Prison), Ester Montes (Eastern Samar), Nenino Cabarles and Renato Abadiano (Samar Provincial Jail), Crisanto Fat (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Bago City, Negros Occidental), Melchor Renomeron (Compostela Provincial Rehabilitation Center), Romeo San Andres (Aurora Provincial Jail), Gildo Gonzales (Makati City Jail) and Willy Geocado (Sorsogon Provincial Jail). 

“We also recall the death of Diona Andrea, the newborn baby of former political prisoner Andrea Rosal. Because of poor jail conditions and inadequate maternal care, baby Diona died two days after she was born at the Philippine General Hospital. The State is responsible for their deaths,” Palabay added. 

“All these political prisoners were charged with trumped up cases. In Ocasla’s case, despite overwhelming evidence on the absurdity of the multiple murder charges against him and his other co-accused, trial is ongoing at the Manila Regional Trial Court. Iligal na kinasuhan at ikinulong na nga sila, nagdurusa pa sila dahil sa di-makatao at mapanupil na kondisyon sa loob ng kulungan,” Palabay said. 

Ocasla is one of the co-accused of NDFP peace consultants Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Tiamzon, Randall Echanis, Rafael Baylosis, Vicente Ladlad, and Adelberto Silva on the multiple murder case filed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines pending before Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 32. 

Ilang detenidong pulitikal pa ba ang kailangang mamatay bago magpalaya ng bilanggong pulitikal ang Duterte administration? While tyrants like Marcos are being treated like heroes to their grave, real heroes like Ocasla who organized peasants and actively defended the rights of the Filipino people are being left to die in jail. We demand the release of all political prisoners now!” Palabay concluded.