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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)


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.