Political prisoners face forced dispersal as Whole of Nation approach implemented in jails – Karapatan

Karapatan raised objections against an ongoing scheme by the Department of National Defense, through the Bureau of Jail and Management and Penology (BJMP) officials, to disperse political prisoners and transfer them to different detention facilities outside of Metro Manila. Calling the plan “surreptitious and detrimental to the long-term health and well-being of political prisoners,” Karapatan said this is part of the military’s whole-of-nation approach (WONA) in jails. Many of the political detainees affected by this are those detained at the Metro Manila District Jail 4, Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.

As of this writing, transfer requests are filed for eleven political prisoners from MMDJ 4 to provincial jails in Laguna, Quezon, and Bulacan.

Karapatan deputy secretary general Roneo Clamor said that as of November 2019, there are 629 political prisoners in the country. Under Duterte’s term, state forces have arrested 382 individuals – activists, community leaders, teachers, human rights defenders, organizers, among others – and charged with trumped-up charges. “Duterte has arrested more in half his term than the entire 6-year leadership of his predecessor. Not only has Duterte smoothened out the creases in filing trumped-up charges and using judicial harassment, he now draws up more restrictive schemes to inflict further injustice against political prisoners. This is a truly merciless government,” he added.

Clamor referred to the statement of BJMP National Chief J/Dir Allan Sullano Iral which explicitly mentioned that the forced dispersal is alongside the implementation of the “whole of nation approach to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC),” as mandated under Executive Order No. 70, series of 2018. He also referred to a DND memorandum that orders the dispersal of political prisoners, especially National Democratic Front (NDF) peace consultants.

“The memorandum and the motive behind this is to prevent any legitimate and united effort by political prisoners and fellow detainees and inmates to address the deplorable conditions inside jails and to subject the political prisoners to far worse, and even dangerous, situations. In the context where many are sickly, estimated to be 113 political prisoners, this forced dispersal will have profound implications on their health and well-being. The congestion rates in the Manila City Jail, Quezon City Jail and those in Region IV-A are at 400% to 600% already!” explained Clamor, adding that the unity of political prisoners have forced BJMP officials to remove inhumane and degrading procedures such as strip searches, allowed PPs to ask accountability amid lack of water and electricity, assert visitation rights and remind officials of prisoner’s rights.

Karapatan also asserted the transfer of political prisoners in jails, particularly in the same area where common offenders or criminals, are detained will endanger their lives. “These individuals are being persecuted already by a government that brands them as enemies of the State. It is not far-fetched, as in the cases of former Albuera, Leyte mayor Rolando Espinosa and Genesis “Tisoy” Argoncillo, who were both killed in separate incidents while under detention, that the Duterte administration is cooking up plans for assassinations of political prisoners while in detention,” Clamor said. As of this writing, transfer requests are filed for six political prisoners from MMDJ 4 to provincial jails in Laguna, Quezon, and Bulacan.

There are international standards, including the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which should be followed by BJMP officials: “We must always be reminded that the detention of political prisoners is already an injustice. Every day in jail adds to the government’s faults against political prisoners. Now, with the whole of nation approach and the forced dispersal, they want to take away even the minimum treatment and worsen their already dire conditions.”

Clamor also emphasized that PPs were victims of trumped-up charges and arbitrary arrests. “Many of them are in jail because operatives planted evidence in their belongings, are implicated by paid and expert witnesses, arrested by virtue of defective warrants, and were targeted because of their affiliation and vocal criticisms,” he stated.

“Political prisoners are not criminals, but individuals who stand for their political beliefs and principles. They should not be in jail in the first place. State repression has placed them behind bars, and it is the same forces that are desperately working to further deny them of their basic rights and humanity. We protest this forced dispersal and continuously call for the release of all political prisoners, as well as the dismissal of trumped-up charges against them,” Clamor ended.