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‘Magpalaya na ng mga nakakulong’

“Nanawagan na ang United Nations na upang maiwasan ang higit pang delubyo na maaring idulot ng COVID-19, magpalaya na ng mga nakakulong. Palayain na yung matatanda, may sakit, low-risk offenders, kabilang dito ang mga bilanggong politikal sa bansa. Ayon sa BJMP, noong October 2019, umabot na ng 450% yung congestion rate o 380 out of 467 jails ay congested o siksikan. Sa kasalukuyan, merong 609 na bilanggong pulitikal sa bansa. 63 dyan may sakit, 47 mga matatanda na, 100 ay mga kababaihan. Huwag na nating hintayin pa na madagdagan ang bilang nila.”

Roneo “Jigs” Clamor
Deputy Secretary General, KARAPATAN

Carlo Francisco

Group fears mass contagion in prisons, slams OSG’s dismissal of temporary liberty petition

By Joseph Cuevas

Families of political prisoners expressed fear their loved ones may contract the coronavirus after different jails across the country reported detainees getting sick from the disease.

The Bureau of Corrections reported an additional 27 new cases of Covid-19 from the Correctional Institute for Women bringing the total case to 50. A 56 year-old inmate from Medium Security Compound of New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa died last April 23 at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

Cebu City jails recorded the highest number of cases at 207 while the Quezon City Jail reported nine positive cases last week.

According to Kapatid, the group of families and friends of political prisoners, no lockdown or even quarantine measures at this stage can contain the outbreak of the disease in the country’s prisons the Philippine Red Cross said is 500% over-congested.

The group earlier warned the government that jails are safe against the virus and urged immediate and extensive testing of both inmates and personnel to stop contagion in prisons/

Kapatid, counsel slams OSG comment

Meanwhile, Kapatid lamented the Office of the Solicitor General’s (OSG) comment to dismiss the petition filed by the group last April 8 asking the Supreme Court (SC) to free low-risk offenders from prisons on humanitarian grounds, including old and the sick prisoners.

In a statement, Kapatid said that OSG’s summary dismissal of their petition is “the height of callousness and disregard for human life.”

The group added that the OSG’s reply to the SC’s order to comment on the petition became a platform for attacking the Left instead of addressing the plight of the elderly and the sick, including a 21-year old prisoner afflicted with leprosy and a six-month pregnant woman.

This petition, while initiated by families of political prisoners, is meant to help all prisoners at risk from the COVID-19 pandemic they say is now invading prison facilities.

Atty. Maria Kristina Conti of the Public Interest Law Center told Kodao that the OSG’s comment to the petition maligned and red-tagged political prisoners.

Conti added that it’s because the OSG cannot deny that the petitioners are indeed vulnerable to the deadly virus and cannot promise detainees are safe, it resorted to attacking character and motives.

“Legally, the OSG failed to refute the application for equity relief in these extraordinary times. We hope that the Supreme Court sees through the government’s rhetoric and gas-lighting tactics, The virus is the enemy, not the people,” Conti said.

The PILC and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers are set to file a reply on Monday, April 27, to the comment filed by the OSG. #

NDFP condoles with Bello for the death of sister due to Covid

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel condoled with Department of Labor and Employment secretary Silvestre Bello III for the “untimely death” of his younger sister due to the coronavirus disease Saturday, April 18.

In a letter, the NDFP said it shares in the grief of Bello and urged him to stay strong in fulfilling his peace advocacy and mission to help Filipino workers, including overseas workers.

Bello was the chairperson of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) Negotiating Panel from 2016 to 2018. He had been a member of various government negotiating panels since the time of the Fidel Ramos government.

The labor secretary confirmed the death of his “favorite sister” he described as someone who heeds his advice.

“Catharine is my favorite. She listened to me. [She was] the first to die among 10 children,” he said.  

The victim was admitted to the hospital last March 25 and was diagnosed positive of Covid-19.

Bello said they thought Catharine was on her way to recovery and were surprised to learn of her death.

In their letter of condolence to their government counterpart, the NDFP said it is of urgent importance that all forces do their respective utmost to combat the spread of the virus, save lives and to safeguard the rights and welfare of the people as the pandemic runs loose throughout the country.

“The death of your sister shall not be in vain as we exert our common effort, as members of our respective negotiating panels, to help secure the release of all political prisoners from their vulnerable conditions in prison on humanitarian and medical grounds,” the letter reads.

“This is the cry of the times as more and more countries respond to the call of the UN Secretary General and the World Health Organization for the release of prisoners,” it adds.

The letter was signed in behalf of the NDFP Negotiating Panel by its chairperson Fidel Agcaoili, chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison, and senior adviser Luis Jalandoni. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Political detainees, families ask SC to have prisoners freed as Covid-19 precaution

Political detainees and their families filed an appeal to the Supreme Court to have vulnerable prison populations released on humanitarian grounds amid the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

In a petition filed Wednesday morning, April 8, the group Kapatid seeks the High Tribunal’s “compassionate intervention” and “exercise of equity jurisdiction” for the release of select prisoners, including political detainees.

The lead petitioners are 22 political prisoners who are mostly elderly and sick, including six women, one of whom has leprosy while another is five-months pregnant.

Kapatid said the petitioners are all vulnerable to the highly infectious virus.

“They are held in prison facilities in Metro Manila where it is practically impossible to practice self-isolation, physical distancing, and other Covid-19 precautions,” Kapatid said in a statement.

The group said they are also calling for the release of all other sick and elderly prisoners on humanitarian grounds, including those who are about to finish their prison terms or are about to be paroled or pardoned.

Kapatid cited United Nations High Commisioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s appeal to have vulnerable prisoners released in order to decongest prisons that might serve as Covid-19 incubators.

Iran, Egypt, and most recently Morocco have released tens of thousands of prisoners in an effort to prevent the spread of disease in the mostly congested penal institutions.

Earlier, human rights group Karapatan, citing official reports, said that Philippine prisons are bursting with 450% overcapacity, making the prison populations vulnerable to Covid-19.

In its petition, Kapatid recommends the creation of a prisoner release committee, similar to those set up in other countries, “to urgently study and implement the release of all other prisoners in various congested prisons throughout the country who are similarly vulnerable but cannot be included in this Petition due to the difficult circumstances.”

Such mechanism shall be in charge of issuing “ground rules relevant to the release of eligible prisoners.”

Eligible prisoners should include low-level offenders as well as those eligible for parole, including 44 political prisoners in Bureau of Correction (BuCor) facilities, the group recommends.

“[We] pray for the Honorable Court’s compassion and protection of their right to life and health amid the Covid-19 pandemic. (We) pray that they be released on humanitarian considerations through bail, recognizance or other non-custodial measures. The continued incarceration of the sick and elderly would be a virtual death sentence,” the petition reads.

The Office of the Solicitor General, Department of Interior and Local Government secretary Eduardo Año, Department of Justice secretary Menardo Guevarra, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology director Allan Iral, BuCor director Gerald Bantag, and six wardens are the named respondents of the petition. The petitioners are Dionisio Almonte, Ireneo Atadero Jr., Emmanuel Bacarra, Oscar Belleza, spouses Alexander and Winona Birondo, Lilia Bucatcat, Rey Casambre, Ferdinand Castillo, spouses Francisco Fernandez Jr. and Cleofe Lagtapon, Renante Gamara, Vicente Ladlad, Ediesel Legaspi, Norberto Murillo, Reina Nasino (pregnant), Ge-Ann Perez (leprosy), Oliver Rosales, Adelberto Silva, Dario Tomada, and spouses Alberto and Virginia Villamor.

Kapatid was assisted by the Public Interest Law Center and the National Union of People’s Lawyers in drafting and filing the petition. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)


Political prisoners draw support from online campaign

By Joseph Cuevas

PROGRESSIVE GROUPS and individuals joined an online campaign Monday night, March 31, demanding the freedom of all political prisoners amidst the threat of the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

Photo from Karapatan

According to human rights group Karapatan that initiated the campaign, #FreePoliticalPrisonersPh and #SetThemFree became trending for two hours and ranked numbers 29 and 30 respectively in the country.

The online campaign followed the appeal of relatives of political prisoners and the call of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet for governments to take urgent action to protect the health and safety of people in detention since, 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.

Photo from COURAGE

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology reported a 450% jail congestion rate nationwide last October with 380 out of 467 detention facilities in the country filled beyond capacity while a 310% congestion rate were recorded by the Bureau of Corrections this January, Karapatan said.

Karapatan emphasized that the inhumane conditions in prisons imperil the life and health of detainees, particularly the sick, the elderly, as well as pregnant women and nursing mothers.

They also added that the “State policy on public health measures must be implemented, not militarist and punitive measures like mass arrests that only criminalize and punish the poor and the marginalized while failing to address their legitimate needs and demands.”

As of March 28, there are 609 political prisoners in the country, 100 of whom are women.

Photo from Mrs. Gloria Almonte, wife of Dionisio Almonte

The group added that 47 political prisoners in its list are elderly while 63 suffer from serious ailments.

Earlier, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines and San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza made similar appeals for the release of political prisoners, as well as other sick and elderly prisoners, including those about to be paroled or pardoned, to decongest the country’s jails and prevent a further outbreak of the virus. #

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)

Kodao Asks: Bakit kailangang ipagpatuloy ang usapang pangkapayapaan sa pagitan ng NDFP at GRP?

Isang Assembly for Peace ang isinagawa noong Enero 17, 2020 sa Quezon City Sports Club kung saan dumalo ang mga nagtataguyod ng usapang pangkapayapaan sa pagitan ng National Democratic Front of the Philippines at Government of the Republic of the Philippines.

Kinapanayam ng Kodao Productions ang ilan sa mga dumalo at narito ang kanilang saloobin. # (Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas)

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)

Lockdown sa NBP, hiniling na tanggalin

Nagsagawa ng press conference ang grupong Kapatid (Families and Friends of Political Prisoners) kaugnay sa krisis na nararanasan ngayon ng mga bilanggo sa New Bilibid Prison (NBP) sa Muntinlupa.

Matinding lockdown ang ipinapatupad ngayon sa Maximum Security Compound matapos gibain ang kanilang mga kubol sa loob ng compound. Nakakaranas na din ng matinding gutom at kawalan ng atensyong medikal ang mga bilanggo. Ayon sa Kapatid, umabot na sa pito ang namatay sa loob lamang nang apat na araw simula noong Oktubre 15.

Nagbigay-saloobin ang ilang mga asawa ng bilanggo sa tila mahigpit na patakaran ng NBP sa pagdalaw. Kabilang na dito ang strip search, searching sa mga dalang pagkain at matagal na pag-aantay para lamang makapasok sa visiting area.

Panawagan nila na tanggalin ng Bureau of Corrections ang lockdown at hayaan na mabisita ng mga kaanak at ilang grupo ang kanilang mga mahal sa buhay. (Credit music: News Instrumental Background by AShamaluevMusic Bidyo ni: Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao)