“Who’s stopping visits to political prisoners this Christmas?” rights group laments

Rights group Hustisya lamented the reported disapproval of their requests for friends and supporters to visit political prisoners days before Christmas.

“We are disheartened that we were not able to hold our regular Paskuhan with the political prisoners. We cannot help but ask, who’s stopping spending simple Christmas gatherings with them?” said Evangeline Hernandez, Hustisya chairperson.

In previous years, friends and supporters of political prisoners have always looked forward to Paskuhan activities inside jails led by Hustisya, an organization of victims, relatives and friends of victims of rights violations.

However, requests to conduct Christmas visits at Camp Bagong Diwa, where Metro Manila District Jail Annex 4 is located, as well as Manila City Jail, did not push through due to what Hustisya believes are apparent moves to delay and eventually, deny the requests.

“Apart from the usual salo-salo, Paskuhan gatherings are an expression of solidarity with the political prisoners. Like most Filipinos during Christmas, we sing songs, give messages and spend time with the political prisoners for just a few hours in a day. These, we believe, provide respite, even for just a short time, for political prisoners who are away from their loved on special occasions like these,” explained Hernandez.

Hernandez recalled they have sent letters requesting for permits to hold Paskuhan activities with the political prisoners since November, following the “rule” of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology that visitation requests be submitted at least two weeks prior to the date requested. Responses of the BJMP included either requiring NBI clearances or IDs of the visitors, and submitting another letter addressed not to the jail wardens of each jail, but to BJMP NCR.
“In fact, we had no choice but to follow these tedious procedures of the BJMP just to visit political prisoners in previous visits. However, in this case, it has become more evident that these so-called rules are meant to deny visits to political prisoners to be visited, and discourage visitors from visiting them,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez believes that the Department of Interior and Local Government, especially its chief Eduardo Año, which administers the BJMP, should be made answerable to the reported denial of holding Christmas gatherings.

“We believe the Grinch is in DILG, in the person of Año. We should also remember that the DILG under the leadership of Año is the same agency that has carried out, through its operatives in the Philippine National Police, numerous, consecutive arrests and subsequently the filing of trumped up charges against civilians, activists and government critics, many of them are in prison,” said Hernandez.

Meanwhile, Hustisya also expressed support to families of political prisoners who were reportedly denied entry at Camp Bagong Diwa over the weekend.

In a press conference yesterday, families of political prisoners at MMDJ Annex 4 recounted how some relatives were barred entry to Camp Bagong Diwa, while they are regular visitors of their detained kin.

“We support the call of families of political prisoners. Let them spend Christmas, the holidays with their loved ones. In the first place, political prisoners are already suffering in jail for crimes they did not commit. These sinister acts of the Grinch Año and his minions should be stopped. They are stealing Christmas time for political prisoners and their families and friends. We will support any actions by the families of political prisoners, including possible filing of charges for denying them the basic right to visitation,” said Hernandez.