Youth political prisoners join hunger strike for freedom

Since yesterday, December 7, youth political prisoners in several detention centers nationwide have been on hunger strike to strengthen the call for the release of all political prisoners. 

“Dedicating one’s youthful energy, intellect and skills to educate and organize the Filipino masses to change an oppressive society is not a crime. Like the many of the detained peasants and workers, we are testament to the continuing State fascism as manifested in our illegal arrest, torture and detention because of our political beliefs. Despite iron bars that keep us restrained physically, we will never be silenced. We will continue to press for the release of all political prisoners, and we will always be one with the Filipino people in the struggle for genuine freedom and democracy,” said Joseph Cuevas and Rex Villaflor, on behalf of the youth political prisoners on hunger strike.  

Cuevas, 34, is a former editor in chief of The Catalyst, the official student publication of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), in 2002. He pursued videography in the alternative media, exposing the rampant feudal oppressions in the countryside.  He was arrested on March 4, 2015, in a house in Quezon City with 4 others and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Ruben Saluta. They are now facing the charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, evidence of which were planted by the police and military led by Criminal Investigation and Detention Group (CIDG) and Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) to whip a “gun for hire group” story.

Villaflor, 37, is a consistent Department of Science and Technology (DOST) scholar in his college years at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP). He became a student organizer for the League of Filipino Students (LFS) and led several campaigns including the restoration of summer classes in PUP and the abolition of exorbitant fees in the College of Engineering. He was also involved in mobilizing thousands of students during the ouster of President Joseph Estrada. On March 2014, he was arrested and kidnapped by elements of Criminal Investigation and Detention Group (CIDG) and Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) together with 6 others, including National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultants Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, in Alonguinsan, Cebu. They were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. 

Also on hunger strike are former UP student Maricon Montajes, 27, Anakbayan organizers Romiel Canete, 30, and Ronilo Baes, 26, who are all detained at the Batangas City Jail. Known as the Taysan 3, they were arrested on June 3, 2010, after elements of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) raided a peasant community in Taysan, Batangas where they were having a community integration. The three were falsely accused as members of New People’s Army (NPA). After being held under the custody of PAF for five days, they were transferred to Batangas Provincial Jail (BPJ) and were slapped with trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, illegal possession of explosives, and violation of election gun ban. Ronilo, meanwhile, was also charged with frustrated homicide. On March 2, 2016, after almost six years in detention, the Rosario Regional Trial Court in Batangas granted the petition for bail of the Taysan 3. However, the bail amounts to P2.1 million.

At the Samar Provincial Jail, Juan Paolo (JP) Versoza, 31, and his wife Grace, 29, are also on hunger strike. JP was a student at the College of Fine Arts in the University of the Philippines-Diliman and a photojournalist in the official student publication Philippine Collegian. His paintings and sculptures have mainly been used for social causes and educational campaigns. In 2006, he went to Samar to conduct research and organize among the farmers; he also met Grace, a poet, in Samar. The couple had been living in Metro Manila, caring for their 3-months old son, for a year when the police arrested them on June 28, 2013. They were charged with trumped up charges of robbery, homicide and illegal possession of explosives on their supposed “aliases,” making the warrants defective. Unfortunately, the court judge deemed the questionable evidence admissible. 

Rey Casambre, executive director of the Philippine Peace Center and consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines said “Pres. Duterte’s recent statement that he will release all political prisoners within forty-eight hours of seeing even a fax copy of a signed bilateral agreement validates what the NDFP has been saying all along.”

Casambre said the NDFP has stated that “any and all political prisoners can be released within days once the decision has been made, and in accordance with judicial procedures.” 

“Thus, the long delay in the releases of the political prisoners despite promises, announcements and commitments are not due to judicial procedures as claimed by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the peace process. The political prisoners are being held hostage to pressure the NDFP into agreeing to an indefinite bilateral ceasefire,” stated Casambre.###