Posts

BAYAN demands freedom of all political prisoners

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) joined UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s call for the freedom of all political prisoners in the time of the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic to save them from possibly contracting the virus in the often crowded and inhumane conditions of jails worldwide, especially in the Philippines. The action was also in response to the online campaign of human rights group Karapatan this 7-8 pm ofTuesday, March 31.

Amid the intensifying dangers presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, Karapatan and other human rights groups as well as religious leaders called on the Rodrigo Duterte the government to free the more than 500 political prisoners in the Philippines. They also called for the release of other prisoners, especially the elderly, pregnant, women and nursing mothers and those who are due for parole or pardon. # (Jek Alcaraz)

Groups urge Covid-19 testing in prisons, release of political detainees

Families of political detainees urged the government to follow World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and start mass testing in prisons after receiving reports that some prisoners are showing symptoms of the corona virus disease (Covid-19).

The group KAPATID said that mass testing should start immediately as it has received reports that more inmates are getting sick despite denials by prison agencies and the Department of Interior and Local Government of confirmed cases.

Marami nagkakasakit, inuubo at nilalagnat,” KAPATID said, citing a report from relatives of political prisoners at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), the national penitentiary at Muntinlupa City. (Many are getting sick, coughing and getting fevers.)

The group said three political prisoners are now reportedly ill with fever at the political prisoners’ wing at the Metro Manila District Jail-Annex 4 (MMDJ-4) at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City.

KAPATID said the three unnamed political detainees are showing common Covid-19 symptoms like fever, headaches, cold, cough and body weakness—the same symptoms for the respiratory disease which has already killed 45 people in the country as of March 25, including nine doctors.

“KAPATID cannot emphasize enough why mass testing is imperative and why it must include the whole prison population comprising both inmates and prison personnel. Reports by other countries such as China and the US indicate that prison guards brought the sickness into prison facilities even with lockdowns in place and stricter health measures, including a forehead thermal scan of persons entering jail premises,” KAPATID spokesperson Fides Lim said in a statement

Lim cited scientific researches that early action through widespread testing has proven effective in controlling the rapid spread of the disease in South Korea and Germany which have managed to keep the Covid-19 death rate relatively low through extensive testing.

“Mass testing of both symptomatic individuals and all those who came into contact with them was crucial in catching the disease, isolating the carriers before they could pass it on, and providing more accurate figures of how many are really affected and how and where to limit contamination,” Lim said.

Free political detainees

Earlier, KAPATID called for the release of political detainees in line with reports that backchannel meetings between Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) representatives and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in The Netherlands have been discussing the matter.

The NDFP urged the GRP to release all political prisoners and a general amnesty be issued “as a matter of justice and necessity.”

The NDFP made the appeal when the Communist Party of the Philippines declared a unilateral ceasefire last Tuesday, March 24, in response to the United Nations appeal for all warring parties to temporarily lay down arms to concentrate on responding to the pandemic.

Kapatid cited the move made by Iran and Egypt to release tens of thousands of prisoners, including political detainees, in a bid to decongest their prisons and prevent Covid-19’s spread through overpopulated jail facilities.

“KAPATID continues to press the humanitarian release of prisoners in line with the new UN (United Nations) call as the most expedient solution to protect and save lives. Tao rin sila,” Lim said. (They are also humans.)

The National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP), the largest group of mainline Protestant churches in the country, also urged the government to release all political detainees following the appeal by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on March 26.

“Let’s take it from the UN. There is an urgent need to address the catastrophic risks in prisons by releasing prisoners, especially now that the country is confronting numerous challenges due to this pandemic,” Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, NCCP General Secretary, said.

“As the number of positive COVID-19 cases spike up, the most Christian thing to do is to leave no one behind. Don’t forget those in prison, especially human rights defenders facing trumped charges, who have staunchly worked for social justice and human rights. They need compassion, they need justice and they need protection. They should be released under humanitarian grounds,” Marigza said in a statement.

“In many countries, detention facilities are overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so. People are often held in unhygienic conditions and health services are inadequate or even non-existent. Physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible,” Bachelet said in her appeal for political detainees’ release.

Karapatan poster.

Meanwhile, human rights group Karapatan announced it will lead an online campaign on Facebook and Twitter  to urge the freedom of prisoners with light sentences as well as political detainees on March 31, Tuesday, at seven to eight o’clock in the evening.

Citing the congestion of Philippine jails at 450%, Karapatan said the government must free the elderly, sick, pregnant and nursing women, those who are due for parole or pardon, at least one spouse each of political prisoner-couples, and “accidental victims” of political arrests. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

No more transfer of political detainees, BJMP assures families

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has agreed to stop the reported mass transfer of political prisoners from its Bicutan Taguig facility to various jails nationwide, a human rights group said.

In a statement, families of political prisoners under the group Kapatid said it met with BJMP deputy for operations Gen. Dennis Rocamora last Thursday morning, December 12, who assured them the detainees in Bicutan would spend the Christmas season together.

“We gave our letter to Gen. Rocamora appealing to stop the mass transfer of political prisoners out of Bicutan through the seemingly legal process of court motions this Christmas season,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said.

Earlier, government prosecutors have asked to transfer National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultants Frank Fernandez, Adelberto Silva and his companions, called the “Sta. Cruz 5”, to the Laguna Provincial Jail; Rey Casambre to Bacoor Jail; and government union organizer Oliver Rosales to Malolos City Jail.

Farmer Maximo Reduta from Southern Quezon was transferred to Gumaca District Jail last month.

“This transfer scheme would in effect result in the dissolution of the entire political prisoner’s wing in Bicutan,” Lim said.

During the dialogue, however, Rocamora reportedly assured Kapatid that the BJMP has ordered the warden of Metro Manila District Jail Annex 4 to stop the transfer of all political prisoners out of Bicutan.
In addition, the BJMP will no longer file requests to the court for transfer of political prisoners and not oppose or counter the opposition filed in court by lawyers of affected political prisoners concerning existing motions for their transfer, Kapatid reported.
Also, the BJMP will no longer act on the old list of a previous warden for the transfer of some political prisoners, the group added.

Kapatid said that no political prisoner in Bicutan wants to be transferred because of concerns for their personal security.
“We hope and pray that the BJMP will fulfill its assurances to Kapatid,” Lim said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Families decry move of political prisoners to local jails

by Joseph Cuevas

Families and supporters of political prisoners held a dialogue with Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) National Headquarters officials on the detainees’ forcible transfer from Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan to local jails, mostly outside Metro Manila, December 4.

According to Kapatid, the organization of families and friends of political prisoners, the transfer of political prisoners is part of a bigger scheme “to further restrict the movement and access to much needed medical attention, legal services, visits and support from relatives and friends.”

The group added the planned transfer all the more violates the detainees’ rights as political prisoners, “whose arrest and detention are unjust from the very beginning.”

Kapatid members were alarmed about the “dispersal” of political prisoners from the Metro Manila District Jail Annex 4 after consecutive court motions were filed to move political prisoners to local jails.

They said inmates suffer from severe congestion and worse jail conditions in the local jails where 11 political prisoners are set to be transferred.

The dialogue, held during the 14th International Day of Solidarity for Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War last December 3, was initiated by the office of Bayan Muna Rep. and deputy minority floor leader Carlos Isagani Zarate at the House of Representatives in Quezon City.

Zarate along with Rep. Ferdinand Gaite and Rep. Eufemia Cullamat filed House Resolution 566 in the lower house to investigate the situation of political prisoners.

Government prosecutors have asked to transfer National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultants Frank Fernandez, Adelberto Silva and their companion, called the “Sta. Cruz 5”, to the Laguna Provincial Jail; Rey Casambre to Bacoor Jail; and government union organizer Oliver Rosales to Malolos City Jail.

Farmer Maximo Reduta from Southern Quezon was transferred to Gumaca District Jail last week.

Counterinsurgency move

BJMP Chief for Operations Jail Chief Supt. Dennis Rocamora said that the transfer of political prisoners is part of decongestion campaign of jails across the country and several concern of security escort during court hearings.

He said they received complaints from different courts about the delayed or postponement of PDLs (Persons Deprived of Liberty) trials because of distance and security measures set by the bureau.

But Rocamora also admitted that some re-commitment of political prisoners outside Metro Manila is due to the request of the Department of National Defense, invoking Executive Order No. 70.

EO 70 created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC), also known as the government’s resurrected “Whole of Nation Approach” against insurgency.

Rocamora cited the case of Fernandez and his wife Cleofe Lagtapon whom the DND requested through BJMP Chief Supt. Allan Iral for their transfer to Sta. Cruz Jail since July 25, 2019.

A copy of court order transferring Maximo Reduta was also revealed in the dialogue as requested by the Defense Secretary.

Rights group opposes transfer

Human Rights group Karapatan 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,” Karapatan said in a statement.

Karapatan also emphasized that political prisoners 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,” the group said.

As of November 2019, there are 629 political prisoners across the country, 382 of whom were arrested under the Duterte government, Karapatan said. #

Families, rights groups mark Political Prisoners Day

Relatives and human rights groups led by the Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights marched to Mendiola in Manila, December 3, to commemorate International Solidarity Day for Political Prisoners and call for the release of all political detainees.

Karapatan said that political prisoners  are proof of an unjust system as well as double standards in which “rule of law” inevitably translates to the rule of rulers.

Recent cases of illegal arrests by the police and military’s continued use of planted evidence, twisted ploys, and ridiculous narratives to jail rights activists and progressive leaders of organizations and communities [are rampant},” Karapatan added.

Karapatan said that there are 540 political prisoners all over the country as of November 2018, 203 of whom were arrested under the Duterte regime.

One hundred forty of the detainees are sickly, 40 are elderly and 56 are women, Karapatan said.

Lengua De Guzman, daughter of National Democratic Front (NDF) peace consultant Rafael Baylosis and wife of union organizer Maoj Maga, said that since November 2017 when Duterte implemented a crackdown against activists and peace consultants, fabricated cases and planting of evidences became the usual pattern of the state forces in their operations.

Aside from cases involving her father and husband, similar incidents happened to government employees organizers like Bob Reyes, the couple Oliver and Rowena Rosales, trade union organizer Ireneo Atadero, women advocate Hedda Calderon and peace consultants Adelberto Silva and Vicente Ladlad, de guzman said.

Karapatan reiterated that political prisoners should be immediately released on just and humanitarian grounds and as a matter of justice.

The Duterte government must also resume peace negotiations with the NDFP and stop the track of militarism against the people, the group said. # (Report and video by Joseph Cuevas)

Supporters demand release of political prisoners

As President Rodrigo Duterte postponed yet again the resumption of its formal peace negotiations between his government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the chances of more than 500 political prisoners to be given general amnesty has again been put into doubt.

Human rights defenders held a protest march from Plaza Salamanca to the Department of Justice offices along Padre Faura Street in Manila last June 20 to condemn the continued incarceration of political prisoners.

Ifugao court frees two political prisoners

By Aldwin Quitasol

BAGUIO CITY — The Regional Trial Court of Lagawe, Ifugao province today acquitted two Cagayan Valley activists, apologizing for their unjust imprisonment for nearly five years.

Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Cagayan Valley organizer Rene Boy Abiva and Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytors Nationwide (Piston) Party Cagayan Valley regional coordinator Virgilio Corpuz were deemed innocent of charges of multiple murder, according to National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Randy Felix Malayao.

Abiva and Corpuz were charged with 12 counts of murder at the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Lagawe, Ifugao by the 86th Infantry Battalion and 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.

The two were detained at the Bureau of Jail and Management Penology (BJMP) facility in Tiger Hills, Kiangan, Ifugao.

Abiva was an employee of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Region 2 and an ACT organizer of the in the region when nabbed on December 28, 2012 by the military.

He was tagged as one of the New People’s Army fighters who staged an ambush against the Philippine Army troopers in Tinoc , Ifugao in April 2012 that killed 10 soldiers.

Abiva’s DSWD daily time record (DTR), however, revealed during trial he reported for work on the day the Tinoc, Ifugao ambush happened.

Corpuz for his part was nabbed in his residence in Santiago City, Isabela by elements of the Philippine National Police Regional Regional Mobile Group on January 2013.

Corpuz, also a development worker of the Katinnulong Daguiti Umili ti Amianan at the time of his arrest, was accused by the Philippine Army to be a certain “Harold Castillo” who participated in another ambush.

“The State must be made accountable for the trumped-up charges and for the more than four years Abiva and Corpuz were made to suffer,” Malayao said.

Various progressive organizations also rejoiced at the acquittal of the two political prisoners.

“The Ifugao Peasant Movement, Cordillera Human Rights Alliance-Karapatan and Cagayan Valley Karapatan join the family and friends of Rene Boy Abiva and Virgilio Corpuz in their long-delayed release from BJMP Ifugao after nearly five years of detention,” the organizations said.

“The court apologized for detaining the two who have been falsely accused and jailed wrongly. The judge said if there were only a law to justly compensate the two, they would be compensated,” they added.

“Their freedom is the people’s victory. Their commitment to serve the people remains and their families are with them,” Cita Managuelod, Virgilio Corpuz’ wife, for her part, said. (With reports from Raymund B. Villanueva in Manila)

UPDATED: Duterte pardons NDFP consultant, 9 others

President Rodrigo Duterte granted pardon to 10 political prisoners including a National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant today, human rights group Karapatan announced.

Peace consultant Emeterio Antalan, along with Joel Ramada, Apolonio Barado, Jose Navarro, Generoso Rolida, Arnulfo Boates, Manolito Patricio, Josue Ungsod and Sonny Marbella were ordered released today from the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), Karapatan said.

The pardon came after Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III recently announced they are conducting informal meetings with the NDFP for the possible resumption of formal negotiations in August.

Upon his election in May 2016, Duterte promised to release all political prisoners in a bid to revive the peace negotiations with the NDFP.

He released 19 NDFP consultants in August last year in time for the first round of formal negotiations in Oslo, Norway.

The presidential pardon of the 10 political detainees today is his second release of political prisoners.

Antalan was convicted with fellow NDFP consultant Leopoldo Caloza of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in September 2015 by the Benigno Aquino administration with no possibility of parole.

A source told Kodao the pardoned detainees were released from their jail cells at four o’clock in the afternoon.

Karapatan volunteers are still on their way to NBP to fetch them as of posting time.

Too few, too late

NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili, however, said the release of the 10 prisoners is “too few and too late.”

“It is just a fraction of the 409 political prisoners still in detention whose liberty was supposed to have been given through general amnesty as offered by PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) on 16 May 2016 as part of the package to resume the peace negotiations with the NDFP,” Agcaoili told Kodao.

Agcaoili said the release of the 10 through pardon was in fact volunteered by the GRP Panel for the Christmas season last December.

“It took more than six months for that voluntary offer to happen,” Agcaoili complained.

“This manifests the regime’s total lack of empathy and concern for the plight of political prisoners who are/have been in prison for trumped up charges in violation of the CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law),” he added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva / Featured image from Karapatan)

GRP and NDFP informal talks put peace process back on track

Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) negotiators agreed to resume formal peace talks more than a month after President Rodrigo Duterte’s termination of the negotiations.

After several weeks of heated exchanges between both parties, the informal talks held in Utrecht, the Netherlands last Friday and Saturday put the peace process back on track with several new agreements such as the release of five NDFP consultants and a prospective bilateral ceasefire.

Here is the formal announcement made by Ambassador Elisabeth Slattum of the Royal Norwegian Government of the results of the backchannel negotiations in The Netherlands in the past two days.

Read more

NDFP-GRP close 2nd round of talks with commitment to release political prisoners

OSLO, Norway–The Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) promised to deliver on its commitment to release political prisoners after four days of intense negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) which ended today. Read more