Karapatan renews call for immediate release of ailing political prisoners

"Imprisonment based on trumped-up criminal charges combined with the inhuman jail condition and the slow grind of the justice system caused political prisoner Eduardo Serrano's death," Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general said. "Serrano, a peace consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, would have walked out of jail a free man a long time ago had the BS Aquino government fulfilled its commitment to release ‘most, if not all’ political prisoners," Palabay said. 

Eduardo Serrano portrait by Jess Santiago 

Serrano spent his last 11 years in jail because of fabricated criminal charges for a certain Rogelio Villanueva. Serrano was already waiting for the dismissal of the last two cases against him when he was rushed to the hospital due to heart attack. Serrano died on January 8 at the Philippine Heart Center.

"We call on BS Aquino to release based on humanitarian grounds all the ailing and elderly political prisoners before his term ends," Palabay said. "It is hard enough to live in cramped and unventilated cells for years. It is even harder for those who are already suffering from ailments, like the 82 political prisoners who are ill," Palabay said. 

Among those named for immediate release on humanitarian grounds are Adelberto Silva, Wilma Austria-Tiamzon, Ramon Argente, Concha Araneta-Bocala, and Alex Birondo. Silva, 68, a consultant for the NDFP, had undergone quadruple angioplasty before he was arrested on June 15, 2015. Austria-Tiamzon, also a peace consultant of the NDFP has spondylolisthesis (forward displacement of vertebra), hypertension and carotid artery occlusion. Argente has coronary artery disease and had already undergone coronary by-pass. The 65-year-old Araneta-Bocala, another NDFP consultant, has weak lungs because of a history of pneumonia. She also has ulcer, recurring lumbar pain due to scoliosis, anemia, vertigo, goiter, and recurring pain in her left eye, which was operated on previously. Alex Birondo is hypertensive and insulin-dependent because of diabetes. 

"We don't want another Eduardo Serrano, Benny Barid, Alison Alcantara or Crisanto Fat who all died while in prison," Palabay said.

In 2014, Benny Barid died of chronic asthmatic bronchitis with emphysema at the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) Hospital. For three years, Barid was in and out of the hospital. He cannot stand up alone, and needs to be put in a wheelchair to move around. Fellow political prisoners, and not the government, looked for means to provide for his medicines.

In 2013, Alison Alcantara died of pneumonia, sepsis and fatal arrhythmia. He was brought to the Philippine General Hospital only after he fell into a coma at the NBP Hospital. Crisanto Fat, a peasant leader in Negros Occidental, died of heart enlargement. He was handcuffed in a hospital bed when he died in 2011. 

As an expression of indignation to the grave injustice done to Serrano, political prisoners are set to hold hunger strike/fasting and other protest actions from January 12 to 17.