Kin of political prisoners, advocates call for release of more than 500 political prisoners in PH

Relatives of political prisoner, human rights advocates, and various groups held a protest action on July 10, 2019, declared as the Global Day of Action to Release all Political Prisoners. The event was part of a campaign launched by Kapatid, the association of families and friends of political prisoners, Karapatan, and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP). Various coordinated actions across countries were launched to call for the release of political prisoners, as well as the dismissal of trumped-up charges.

“We echo the call for the release of political prisoners on just and humanitarian grounds. There are 532 political prisoners in the country, 209 of them were arrested under the Duterte government. Despite the government’s malicious efforts to brand them as “criminals,” political prisoners are passionate, selfless and determined individuals who have lived and struggled alongside the marginalized. They are activists, advocates, trade unionists, peace consultants, development workers, teachers, church workers, and many more,” said Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor.

Out of the 532 political prisoners in the country, 44 are elderly, 61 are women, 118 are sickly, 5 were minors when they were arrested, and 10 are peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Clamor reiterated that aside from the unjust and false charges leveled against political detainees, the inhumane conditions that they are faced with also add to the injustice that they have to endure.

“There are already four political prisoners who have died while in detention 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 Bernabe Ocasla, Marcos Aggalao, Franco Romeroso, and Alex Arias.

Karapatan also highlighted the case of 20-year-old Ge-ann Perez who was illegally arrested last March 2019, along with NDFP 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.

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

He emphasized that this is part of the government’s repressive agenda: “The arrest of critics, advocates, and rights defenders are 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,” concluded Clamor.