“Aside from these letters and other efforts, we are also putting the whole of ourselves in our plea for return of our freedom, application of justice and respect for human rights that have been and continue to be deprived from us,” thus said the political prisoners in a statement, explaining the reason for their hunger strike. The 32 political prisoners at Camp Bagong Diwa’s male and female dorm signed the declaration of hunger strike. Among them are Andrea Rosal, and consultants to the peace talks of the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) such as Alan Jazmines, Tirso Alcantara, Loida Magpatoc, Emeterio Antalan, and Leopoldo Caloza.
Human rights defenders from all over the Philippines commemorated the 66th International Human Rights Day in Manila by staging a symbolic trial of President Benigno for his government’s violations.
They proclaimed the Aquino government is guilty of about 175,000 documented cases of human rights violations ranging from extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and many others in its four-and-a-half year reign so far.
They blame the Manila government’s implementation of its US-sponsored counter-insurgency program called Oplan Bayanihan for non-stop harassment and forced evacuation specially of indigenous peoples’ communities in the regions.
The protest actions last December 10 concluded with the burning of a US flag-draped effigy of Aquino.
Affiliated mass organizations of the Philippines Chapter of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS-Philippines) mark Human Rights Day in Manila. They joined a protest march and rally of rights victims led by KARAPATAN to indict the US-Aquino regime for crimes against the Filipino people. Among those who expressed support are international delegates of the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty and Asian Peasant Coalition. Performing with cultural groups from the Manilakbayan of Mindanao is One Billion Rising (OBR) Global Director Monique Wilson.
The US-backed Aquino regime stands trial for crimes against the Filipino people as organizations led by Karapatan, Manilakbayan, Bayan, and Defend-Southern Tagalog gather to commemorate the International Human Rights Day.
“The witnesses are the victims of human rights violations or their kin. Their testimonies are their own harrowing experiences under the US-Aquino regime. Today, they will declare the verdict on the US-Aquino regime’s crime against the Filipino people, its violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. For these crimes, we say, the US-Aquino regime is guilty,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.
Karapatan enumerated a number of these crimes:
· BS Aquino paid no heed to the demands of the Manilakbayan contingent, mostly peasants and indigenous peoples, to pull out the 55 battalions of AFP combat troops in Mindanao that implement Oplan Bayanihan and protect big foreign mining corporations and plantations, which plunder the country’s resources.
· The 226 victims of extrajudicial killings—84 of them are from Mindanao; 136 are peasants, and 54 are indigenous peoples. There are also 225 victims of frustrated killings. What is more alarming is the manner by which a number of victims were killed. To date, there are 15 victims of extrajudicial killing who were brutally slain, involving individuals who were tortured to death, beheaded, hogtied and dumped in a shallow grave.
· There are more than 145,000 victims of the AFP’s use of, and encampment in, schools, medical, religious and other public places for military purpose. Most of the documented cases are in Mindanao.
· BS Aquino regime used trumped-up criminal charges against activists and community leaders to silence them and quell protests against government policies and projects that attack their communities. There are 491 political prisoners, most of them falsely charged with criminal offenses.
· Millions of people’s money were used by Voltaire Gazmin’s Department of National Defense and Mar Roxas’s Department of Interior and Local Governments as bounty for “communist leaders” in their Order of Battle (OB). The practice has victimized civilians who are jailed by insisting they are the persons whose names appeared in their OB list. For 2014 alone, Gazmin and Roxas’s departments gave away Php 51.2 million to “informers” as reward money.
· While mouthing slogans of peace, BS Aquino continues to stand in the way of peace. It refuses to seriously face the National Democratic Front of the Philippines at the negotiating table, disregards previously signed agreements and reneges on its commitment to release “all, if not most” of political prisoners. It has not ceased to arrest and detain NDFP peace consultants. There are currently 14 NDFP detained consultants who are protected by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).
· The violation of rules of engagement and international humanitarian law against the civilians and the seven members of the New People’s Army in a Northern Luzon Command-led military operation in Lacub, Abra on September 3-6. Recca Noelle Monte was killed without any gunshot, and Arnold Jaramillo’s body was riddled with bullets. The two, with five other NPA members Brandon Magranga, Ricardo Reyes, Pedring Banggao, Robert Beyao and Roberto Perez were tortured, willfully killed and their remains desecrated.
· The BS Aquino regime isguilty of treason for the US re-occupation of the Philippines and the sell-out of the country’s sovereignty through the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.The BS Aquino regime isguilty for the systematic human rights violations perpetrated under the Oplan Bayanihan, and directed by the US through its Counterinsurgency Guide of 2009.
Palabay said, “The victims of typhoons Yolanda and Ruby taught us not to depend on the government that is unreliable and useless; that our safety and well-being rest in our own hands and in our collective power. We can apply this lesson in dealing with our miserable situation under the US-Aquino regime.”
In its more than four years in power, Palabay said, the “BS Aquino regime has done nothing but exaggerate the actions it has taken supposedly to address human rights violations; or ignore as baseless or propaganda the complaints of violations against his regime. He calls the people’s protests against human rights violations as heckling, hooliganism or vandalism.”
These cases will also be brought before the international community through the International People’s Tribunal (IPT) on the Crimes of the US-Aquino Government Against the Filipino Peoplebeing organized by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) and other international groups, in July 2015. “We call on the international community to support the Filipino people’s voices at the IPT,” said Palabay.
“In the end, because the US-Aquino regime does not uphold and protect our individual and collective rights, it is also our right as a people to kick out a president that has only served well the corrupt bureaucracy, his own landlord class and his master, the US imperialism. Thus, we say: US-Aquino regime,papanagutin, palayasin,” ended Palabay.
Countdown to International Human Rights Day
Political prisoners go on fast, call for release and end to criminalization of political acts
Political prisoners in the Philippines launched a seven-day fast today, as members of the International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS) commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners. The fast will last until December 10, International Human Rights Day.
Close to a hundred political prisoners in different jails in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao announced participation to the fast to call for their release and as a gesture of solidarity to various people’s protest actions leading to December 10.
Those fasting are political prisoners in various detention centers in Metro Manila, at the Special Intensive Care Area-Metro Manila District Jail (SICA-MMDJ) and Taguig City Jail-Female Dorm in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City; New Bilibid Prisons-Maximum Security Compound in Muntinlupa City; and PNP Custodial Center in Quezon City.
In the provinces, fasting political prisoners are those detained in the following jails: Aurora Provincial Jail in Southern Tagalog; Ormoc City Jail, Tacloban City Jail, and Dancalan Provincial Jail in Bobon, Northern Samar and Bohol Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Visayas; and in Valencia City Jail, Malaybalay City Jail, Gingoog City Jail, Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in Misamis Oriental, and Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao. Jailed peace consultants of the National Democratic Front are also joining the fast.
Some political prisoners will also hold noise barrages and hanging of streamers as protest. These activities culminate on Human Rights Day, “as their way of highlighting the government’s practice of criminalizing political actions and filing trumped up charges against those perceived as ‘enemies of the state’,” said Jigs Clamor, SELDA national coordinator.
As support to the political prisoners, various progressive organizations led by Karapatan and SELDA held picket actions today at the Manila Regional Trial Court and at the Department of Justice.
The protesters first went to the Manila Regional Trial Court for the hearing of the multiple murder case against peace consultants Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Austria-Tiamzon, Randall Echanis, Raphael Baylosis, Vicente Ladlad, and Makabayan Coalition Chair Satur Ocampo. The case is considered the “mother” of all trumped-up charges implicating Ocampo et al in a supposed mass grave found in Monterico Village, Baybay Leyte. All those accused in the case, except the Tiamzon couple are on conditional bail.
Joined in by Manilakbayan from Mindanao and Karapatan-Southern Tagalog, the protesters marched to the Justice Department. “This department cannot simply say they cannot do anything on these trumped up cases lodged against political prisoners,” Clamor said. “The military weaves stories with prosecutors so they can arrest and detain people who are actively defending their rights and their communities,” he added.
As of November 2014, there are 491 political prisoners, 220 of them were arrested under the BS Aquino regime. There are 43 female political prisoners, 53 are ailing, 42 are elderly, and six are minors.
“The political prisoners are not the enemy of Filipino people. The plunderers and those who perpetuate human rights violations, killings, disappearances, torture and harassment are those who should be jailed. We need the political prisoners back in the streets and in the communities to continue their selfless work and advocacies. They should be immediately released,” he concluded. ###
Manila, December 3, 2014
Five years after the massacre of 58 men and women including 32 journalists in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao, justice remains elusive and impunity still reigns. The promise of President Benigno Aquino III to help speedily resolve the case that has put the Philippines in the limelight as one of the most dangerous places for journalists not only remains unfulfilled; through his statements and actions he has downplayed the killing of journalists and ignored the possible accountability of military officers in the Massacre.
Something is already terribly wrong with the country’s justice system when a warlord clan can murder 58 people in broad daylight and still get away with flooding the courts with petitions and motions so as to delay the proceedings, and worse, probably cause the murder of four probable witnesses to the crime.
The majority of the suspects, mostly police officers and members of the private army of the Ampatuan clan, remain at large. Forty-one, including the policemen who flagged down the convoy on November 23, 2009, have been granted bail. The government prosecutors are accused of accepting bribes. Just four days before the fifth year of the Ampatuan massacre, another possible witness was again gunned down.
All these favor the Ampatuan clan, allowing it to show the families of the victims and the witnesses that they are still in power and can play with the courts until public interest on the case wanes so that they can forge out- of- court settlements and strike deals with the government.
A welcome development in the midst of many disappointments is the Supreme Court’s release of guidelines in December 2013 to expedite the case. However, there is still no cause for celebration as the case continues to drag on.
The Ampatuan Massacre is a key issue in the Filipino people’s struggle against the culture of impunity that has afflicted the country for so long. A decision favourable to the masterminds and killers will encourage more killings of and human rights violations against journalists, activists, and other sectors.
Time is of essence. It has long been recognized that it will take the intercession of President Aquino himself to speed up the case. But instead, the Aquino administration promoted the two military officers who refused to provide security to the victims at the time of the incident—Col. Medardo Geslani and Lt. Gen. Alfredo Cayton, who were promoted to brigadier-general and major-general respectively, thus sending across the country and to the armed forces and police that the Aquino administration is not interested in putting an end to the culture of impunity.
Under the Aquino administration, 25 journalists have been killed for their work since 2010., making the Aquino record second only to that of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime. Instead of recognizing the political nature of the killings, Aquino has also blamed the victims themselves and dismissed the cases of journalists killed as merely the consequence of personal disputes. This does not only aggravate the pain of the bereaved families whose lives are also at risk amid the lack of meaningful government support, but more alarmingly feeds the culture of impunity and the reign of injustice in the country.
For these reasons, the President and his administration should be held accountable as well.
Despite the declarations of President Aquino that his administration has been implementing “reforms” in the country’s system of governance, traditional patronage politics still characterize the policies and official acts of the Aquino administration, and political dynasties and local warlords still lord it over the country.
Attaining justice for all those killed not only in the Ampatuan massacre but in the many cases of extra judicial killings as well lies in the hands of the Filipino people. The people and not only the journalism and media community must remain vigilant. They need to monitor developments in the Massacre trial and other cases closely, exert pressure on the government, and demand justice for the victims of the Ampatuan massacre and other killings of journalists as well as those of activists and human rights defenders. But even more crucially should they continue to monitor the policies, acts and statements of the Aquino regime towards holding it to account for helping perpetuate the culture of impunity.
AlterMidya is a nationwide network of independent and progressive alternative media outfits in the Philippines that promotes journalism for the people.