Immediately release political prisoners on humanitarian grounds

Letter to the Editor

Decades after the Martial Law years, the Philippines continues to face the grim reality of the existence of political prisoners. Whether under the fascist Marcos dictatorship or “democratic” administrations after him, the rights of political prisoners are repeatedly violated as they are slapped with fabricated charges, arbitrarily arrested and illegally detained. Many of them are tortured and denied their right to counsel and due process.  They suffer subhuman prison conditions and prolonged imprisonment,and  intentionally slowed down judicial process.

We are calling for the immediate release of political prisoners on humanitarian grounds, which include the ailing and the elderly (60 years old and above). As of August 2013, there are 449 political prisoners in different detention centers all over the country. 154 of them were arrested under the Noynoy Aquino government, a significantly large number for an administration that denies the existence of political prisoners. There are 48 ailing political prisoners that need medical attention, while 28 prisoners belong to the elderly and 35 are women.

The poor and inadequate  health services that the government provides endanger the lives of the relatively more vulnerable sick and elderly political prisoners. The meager budget allotted to prison inmates makes jails and detention centers barely habitable, unsafe and hazardous to the health and general well-being of prisoners.  Keeping the sick and elderly political prisoners longer in prison leads to serious health complications that could be life-threatening.

Take the case of  Alison Alcantara, 55, who suffered from uncontrolled diabetes the past years and recently died of pneumonia, sepsis and fatal arrhythmia after falling into a coma at the New Bilibid Prisons.  Ramon Argente, 53, from the Camarines Norte Provincial Jail has just undergone a triple heart by-pass at the Philippine Heart Center. Bringing him back to prison will not in any way help in his speedy recovery, aside from the fact that his detention has been a violation of his rights since day one when he was arrested without warrant on a variety of trumped-up charges.

And who are the the political prisoners? They are activists, farmers and workers, students, professionals, cultural workers. Just recently, a physicist and activist, Kim Gargar, was arrested and detained in Mati, Davao Oriental while performing his work as a scientist. The military now feasts on tagging him as a member of the New People’s Army. Red-tagging and vilification against political prisoners by state security forces have become standard fare to justify the political prisoners’ continued detention and stripping of their rights.

To obfuscate the political nature of the offenses attributed to government critics and people resisting administration policies and programs that harm the majority of the people, criminal charges are filed against them, usually with insufficient or planted evidence.  There is no place for political prisoners in a country supposedly democratic and treading a “righteous path.”

Please join the families and friends of political prisoners, human rights advocates and SELDA, the organization of former political detainees, in the campaign to FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS.  In the immediate, let us all work for the release on humanitarian grounds of the sick and elderly political prisoners.

MARIE HILAO-ENRIQUEZ, chairperson, SELDA (Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto)
# 1 Maaralin cor. Matatag Sts. Brgy. Central Quezon City
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