SELDA: Groups renew call for immediate, unconditional release of political prisoners

December 5, 2023 | SELDA

The Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban Sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA), an organization of former political prisoners, alongside various human rights and people’s organizations, gathered at the Department of Justice (DOJ) on December 5, 2023 to call on the Marcos Jr. administration for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners on just and humanitarian grounds, including the peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the sick and the elderly.

SELDA spokesperson and former political prisoner Bonifacio Ilagan emphasized that the peace consultants should not have been arrested in the first place, since they are protected under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the NDFP. The JASIG states that the primary purposes of adopting the agreement are “to facilitate the peace negotiations, create a favorable atmosphere conducive to free discussion and free movement during the peace negotiations, and avert any incident that may jeopardize the peace negotiations.”

According to SELDA, the NDFP peace consultants’ incarceration on various criminal charges is also a clear violation of the Hernandez Doctrine, which holds that offenses committed in pursuit of political causes should be subsumed under the bailable offense of rebellion. The Hernandez Doctrine, established in People vs. Hernandez in 1956, states that rebellion cannot be complexed with other crimes, such as murder and arson. The Hernandez Doctrine and its corollary, People vs. Geronimo, are also cited in the NDFP and GRP’s Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), Article 6 states that “the GRP must expeditiously review the cases of all prisoners or detainees who have been charged, detained, or convicted contrary to this doctrine and must promptly release them.”

According to Karapatan, there are at least 17 NDFP peace consultants currently detained, as of November 30, 2023. Out of the 795 political prisoners, there are 98 with life-threatening illnesses and 78 elderly.

At least two political prisoners – 67 year old Cristina Miguel, a peasant organizer detained in Cagayan Valley, and 55-year old Marcos Villareal, a farmer jailed for trumped up charges of murder in Camarines Sur – have died while in detention under the Marcos Jr. administration. Miguel died due to complications of her cancer disease on November 20, while Villareal had chronic kidney disease and died on December 3. During the Duterte administration, there were 11 political prisoners who died while under detention.

Recently released political prisoner Danah Marie Marcellana, a member of SELDA and daughter of slain human rights worker Eden Marcellana, said that the inhumane conditions in jails and prisons in the Philippines are detrimental to the health and welfare of all prisoners. “With the 362% occupancy levels in Philippine jails and prisons, the over-congestion, the meager budget for food, the lack of medical services and facilities and many others contribute to the deterioration of the health and well-being of those in prison, including political prisoners,” she said.

Non-bailable trumped up criminal charges have been filed against political prisoners, Marcellana said, which take years to resolve in courts, resulting in their prolonged incarceration.

“We enjoin all peace and human rights advocates and the general public to call for the release of all political prisoners and to uphold what is just and humane,” Marcellana said.