“If the government really wants real peace and is for human rights, as they continue to announce, it must release all political prisoners and stop political persecution against its perceived enemies.” – Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Political prisoner Ramon Patriarca began his hunger strike on June 1.
In a statement, the political prisoner explained that he would refrain from eating in protest against the circumstances surrounding his continuing detention.
“This June 11, 2012, I will have a hearing where Judge Sylva Paderanga of Regional Trial Court Branch 25 is expected to rule on our pending motion to implement my temporary transfer to the Cebu Provincial and Detention Center (CPDRC) consistent with the Court’s Order dated January 30, 2012. It is unfortunate that Judge Paderanga’s order directing CPDRC to ‘allow my stay’ at the said facility has remained unimplemented for four months now,” he said.
Patriarca is a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. According to reports of Karapatan-Central Visayas, he was tortured and held incommunicado after he was abducted by elements of the 78th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and the provincial police on February 5, 2009 in Consolacion, Cebu. He was charged with rebellion, but his arrest was without warrant. In his testimony in court, he said he was kicked and punched, subjected to “water cure” and other forms of physical and mental torture. A doctor who examined Patriarca said he had acute stress disorder secondary to physical and psychological trauma.
“Water cure” is the local version of waterboarding, a form of torture in which water is continuously poured over the face of a captive making him or her experience the sensation of drowning. The Central Intelligence Agency and the Armed Forces of the US received international condemnation for applying this form of torture on suspected terrorists.
Patriarca said he should not be detained at Camp Lapu-lapu.
“Among other reasons, this was where I was first brought after I was abducted more than three years ago, where I was subjected to torture and human rights violations before I was finally turned over to the Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO).I sincerely hope Judge Paderanga will exercise good sense and fairness in view of my indefinite hunger strike, and in resolving the issue of my immediate transfer and temporary detention at CPDRC,” he said.
In a previous statement, Karapatan chairperson Marie Hilao-Enriquez noted that the AFP has yet to make genuine headway in its supposed campaign to find and arrest former Gen. Jovito Palparan, Jr who is wanted on several counts of abduction, murder and various human rights violations.
“But the AFP’s quick hand on the hasty transfer of political prisoner Patriarca from Danao City Jail to a military stockade in the AFP-Central Command in Camp is obvious. The AFP should stop denying their rights abuses as it keeps its eyes closed to Palparan’s whereabouts. It coddles Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado and SSgt. Edgardo Osorio, Palparan’s co-accused; and instead continues to target people whom it perceives as their enemies,” she said.
Last January 25, Patriarca was transferred back to Camp Lapu-lapu without prior notice to him and his counsel, on the basis of reports of a purported “NPA rescue” plot and a supposed court order. Hilao-Enriquez said that the AFP was not above manufacturing false scenarios and fabricating lies to justify its abuses.
“This was essentially the same excuse the AFP wanted to use when it wanted to have another NDFP consultant Alan Jasminez taken to a military facility on the basis of a supposed court order,” she said.
Jazmines is currently detained at Custodial Center in Camp Crame.
Release all political prisoners
Hilao-Enriquez stressed that the military has no right to keep political prisoners inside their camps as in the case of Patriarca and another NDF consultant, Tirso “Bart” Alcantara who has been kept in Fort Bonifacio for over a year now.
“In the first place, the 12 NDFP consultants should never have been in jail for they are covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) between the government and the NDFP,“ she said.
Last May 27, the friends and supporters of political prisoner and poet Ericson Acosta held a birthday party/fund raiser for the detained poet who celebrated his 40th birthday that same day. Acosta has been detained since February 2011 the Calbayog sub-provincial jail. According to reports soldiers and officials of the 8th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army maintain a constant presence outside the prison, intimidating his family and other visitors.
Acosta’s lawyers have already filed a complaint on the matter with the Commission on Human Rights (PCHR), but the agency has no response. Last September 2011, he filed a petition for the review of his case before the DOJ, stating the existence of irregularities and rights abuses. Eight months have passed, surpassing the 60 days deadline the DOJ is mandated to respond to the petition, but the DOJ’s decision remains pending.
Last May 31, civil libertarians and human rights advocates in Southern Mindanao marked the first year of arrest and detention of another political prisoner Vanessa delos Reyes. Delos Reyes, 27, was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) who became a ‘hors de combat’ (out of combat) after she was critically wounded in an armed encounter against AFP troops in Davao Oriental on May last year. Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte facilitated her transfer from the district hospital in Bislig, Surigao del Sur to Davao City for medical treatment.
Human rights groups held a protest calling for her immediate and unconditional release and a dinner-for-a-cause to raise funds for her release and continuing medical needs.
“Up to now she is confined at the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) under hospital arrest due to her spinal injury resulting to body paralysis. She remains heavily guarded with army soldiers. Four counts of frustrated murder cases have been lined up against her by the AFP,” said Mary Ann Sapar, coordinator of Free Vanessa Movement (FVM) and secretary general of Gabriela Southern Mindanao Region.
Hors de combat are combatants who have been injured, rendered incapable of engaging in active combat, and are accorded rights to medical care and other rights under international humanitarian law.
Sapar said they continue to appeal for the dropping of charges against del los Reyes and for her immediate and unconditional release as prisoner of war.
“We have appealed to the NPA in the past, calling them to release their prisoners of war on humanitarian grounds. In response the NPA released captured AFP soldiers and officers allowing them to reunite with their anguished wives and families,” said Sapar.
In the meantime, Fe Salino, co-convenor of FVM and secretary general of Selda-SMR said that given how former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona was found guilty before the impeachment court, the Aquino government should focus on efforts to take Macapagal-Arroyo and her co-accused in the various criminal cases against her to jail.
“Allowing Arroyo to hospital and house arrest exposes the double standards in our justice system: political prisoners and poor inmates languish under in inhumane conditions in detention while the known plunderers, election saboteurs and human rights violators are given special treatment,” she said.
Aquino reneging on promise to release political prisoners
When he first came to power in 2010, President Aquino made a public announcement regarding the possibility of releasing all political prisoners by having their cases reviewed by the Department of Justice. Malacañang spokespersons said the government was even receptive to the idea of a General Amnesty to all political prisoners as proposed by former House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., but made it clear that this would have to be subjected to a thorough review first.
Two years later, no reports have been released regarding the outcome of the DOJ review or if there really had been one. In March 2010, Karapatan the DOJ an updated list of political prisoners . In its report, the group said that given that 80 percent of the country’s 350 political prisoners were arrested, tortured and detained during Arroyo’s nine-year reign, the least the Aquino government should do as an imperative of justice and accountability is to free them and rectify the brutal effects of the past regime’s Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) counter-insurgency campaign.
Since December 2010, political prisoners have been holding hunger strikes to remind the Aquino government of its promise to release them as part of its promises to hold its predecessor accountable for its crimes and in keeping with the agreement with the NDFP in the peace negotiations.
Karapatan continues to call for the release of almost 350 political prisoners who are in various detention centers all over the country. “The Aquino government ignored our call for a general, unconditional and omnibus amnesty for all political prisoners, majority of whom were arrested under the previous Macapagal-Arroyo regime. Instead, 81 people were arrested under Aquino’s watch,” said Karapatan’s Hilao-Enriquez.
The human rights leader decried how political prisoners are slapped with trumped up criminal charges that make their detention baseless. She said JASIG-protected NDF consultants should have been released almost immediately if only the government kept its commitment to the NDFD to release all, if not most of the NDF consultants in keeping with the peace talks between the GPH and the NDFP.
“The government chooses to put the peace talks on hold instead of releasing political prisoners. If the government really wants real peace and is for human rights, as they continue to announce, it must release all political prisoners and stop political persecution against its perceived enemies,” she said.