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
Aquino gov’t denies proper medical attention, puts ailing political detainees “on death row,” says SELDAPress Release October 8, 2013
Rights group SELDA said that by deliberately denying proper medical treatment on ailing political detainees, the Aquino government is “putting them on death row.”
This is all in a stark contrast of what the Aquino is treating Janet Lim-Napoles, an accused plunderer involved in multi-billion pork scams, now billeted in Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa City enjoying the comfort and amenities of the rich and (in)famous, according to the group.
“We are enraged at the double standard treatment of inmates under the Aquino administration. Political prisoners who are victims of false and trumped-up charges are treated like dirt in prison facilities. While, according to them, those who skimmed government funds with the collaborations of certain high government officials are given with the most elaborate security, high food allowances, air-conditioned rooms, regular monitoring of medical status, easy communication with the outside world, liberal visiting procedures, among other privileges. Surely, this is how the government treats one of its own – in a crook’s prison haven, while political prisoners rot in hellish prison holes.” SELDA national coordinator Jigs Clamor said.
Clamor added that by continuously denying them to be treated immediately and properly given medical care, the government is endangering more lives of political prisoners. Many of them, according to SELDA, have medical conditions that, if left untreated, are vulnerable to more serious complications of diseases.
SELDA is calling for immediate attention as another political prisoner, peasant organizer Ramon Argente, 53, needs an immediate coronary artery bypass surgery to save him from coronary heart disease. He is confined at the Philippine Heart Center since September 26.
“Argente, among other political prisoners, has not been even proven guilty of the trumped-up charges filed against them. His rights, along with his co-accused have been violated since day one of arrest. They were arrested without warrant, held incommunicado for days after their arrest, and denied of counsel – all of which are violations to their right to due process, freedom and safety,” Clamor said.
Argente, along with union organizers Randy Vegas and Raul Camposano, have been charged with several and varying counts of murder, theft and frustrated murder before the Regional Trial Court Branch 64 in Labo, Camarines Norte. A total of 32 individuals were included in the said charges, where four have been arrested including Vegas, Camposano and Argente.
The charges are said to be in connection with their alleged participation in an ambush by the New People’s Army (NPA) against the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Maot, Labo, Camarines Norte in the eastern part of Luzon, April 29.
Millions for plunderers, centavos for political prisoners
The group also decried the continuous denial of the government to pay for the hospitalization expenses of political prisoners. For heart bypass alone, Clamor said that the family of Argente is asked to raise around Php700,000.00.
“By all means, these should be shouldered by the state. This amount cannot even be compared to what the government is spending to take care of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Napoles. We pay for every single centavo to save lives of plunderers and wrongdoers, while we let those wrongly accused die from crimes they did not even commit. This is injustice at the very core,” Clamor said.
Argente is one of the 48 ailing political prisoners that need proper and immediate medical attention, according to SELDA. One of them, Alison Alcantara, died last month due to fatal arrhytmia, sepsis and health associated pneumonia.
“His life could have been saved if only he was accorded of his rights to healthcare as a prisoner,” Clamor said.
SELDA is calling on the release of all sick and elderly political prisoners on humanitarian grounds, including those who have served a long time in prison.
“This is also the reason why SELDA joins the growing movement for the abolition of all forms of pork barrel. The government should allot and re-channel the pork barrel funds to improve prison conditions in detention centers all over the country, among other basic social services which should be provided to the people,” Clamor said. ###
Reference: Jigs Clamor, SELDA National Coordinator, 0917-5965859
Leila B. Salaverria | Philippine Daily Inquirer
A group of martial law detainees on Monday appealed to Congress to automatically consider some 9,000 individuals who won a class suit against the Marcoses in Hawaii victims of human rights violations entitled to government compensation.
Samahan ng Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda) directed its plea to the bicameral conference committee, which is hammering out the final version of a bill that seeks to indemnify victims of abuses during the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship.
The remuneration would come from the P10 billion in Marcos ill-gotten wealth that Swiss authorities had returned to the Philippine government after the dictator’s ouster in the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.
Selda, which led the filing of the Hawaii case, said claimants must be conclusively presumed as human rights violations victims, as stated in the House of Representatives version of the bill.
The bicameral conference committee is debating on whether to follow the House version or the Senate version, which states that there is a “disputable presumption” that the claimants are victims, meaning they are subject to validation. The panel is to meet on Wednesday following a first meeting last week.
In a statement, Selda chairperson Marie Hilao-Enriquez said that to make the claimants in the Hawaii case undergo a rigorous validation process again would undermine their efforts to seek justice.
“Such a provision is dangerous, for if this is included and passed into law, the victims who filed and won the Hawaii case will once again undergo and endure the painful and rigorous process to prove that they were indeed violated during martial law,” Enriquez said.
“We are adamant that conclusive presumption should be the principle adopted to automatically consider the 9,539 victims who pursued and won the Hawaii case under the proposed Philippine law,” she added.
Enriquez also said the group was pushing the compensation bill to enforce the 1992 judgment in the Hawaii case, which was to indemnify the martial law victims.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, one of the Hawaii claimants and a coauthor of the bill, also said that it would be dangerous to do away with the conclusive presumption clause.
He said some of the victims may be unable to present evidence to defend themselves if their application for compensation was contested, considering the many years that had passed.
Colmenares would not be filing any application for compensation since he was the author of the bill, but he added that he himself would be hard put to find the evidence to show he was tortured and imprisoned for four years.
And if a Hawaii claimant was denied by the compensation board, it would just lend credence to the Marcoses’ claim that many of those who filed the court case were fake martial law victims, according to Colmenares.
“It is surely unkind to make the Hawaii victims, the majority of whom are very old now, to again relive before the compensation board their rape, torture and sufferings. This is outrageous,” he said.
He also defended the House provision that states that 80 percent of the compensation fund would go to the Hawaii claimants, and the remaining 20 percent to other claimants.
About 10,000 purported victims have filed cases against the Marcoses following the long and tedious court processes in Hawaii. But Congress is not sure how many of those who did not file cases will apply for compensation, especially since 40 years have passed since martial law was declared in 1972.
Selda also said the compensation bill must recognize all human rights violations victims during the martial law regime, and not just those who were exercising their rights “peacefully” as stated in the Senate version.
“It will be the height of historical amnesia and ignorance to only recognize the rights violations against those who ‘peacefully exercised their rights,’ as if the situation during the martial law years would permit such an exercise,” Enriquez said.
She said those who marched and defended themselves against the Philippine Constabulary and those who joined the communist New People’s Army also had rights.
Joker Arroyo slammed
Enriquez criticized Sen. Joker Arroyo for reportedly derailing the panel’s initial meeting last week by insisting, as embodied in the Senate version of the bill, on limiting reparation to those who fought the dictatorship through peaceful means.
“Arroyo wants to exclude those who resorted to armed resistance during martial law, implying that in doing so, they had given up their rights,” Enriquez told the Inquirer after a meeting in the office of Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Senate committee on peace and unification.
Asked for a reaction, Arroyo’s staff released to the Inquirer without comment a letter from Loretta Ann Rosales, chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, pointing out that the 80-20 ratio provision in the proposed package would nullify the intention of the measure—to give reparation to all victims of human rights abuses.
Arroyo was one of the few prominent lawyers, including the late Jose W. Diokno and Lorenzo Tañada, who defended human rights victims during the martial law years. With a report from Cathy Yamsuan
The Samahan ng Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA), a group formed by Martial Law victims that led the filing of the historic class action suit against former Pres. Ferdinand Marcos in Hawaii, today reiterated its position on the issues being debated upon at the bicameral conference committee on the Marcos victims compensation bill.
Marie Hilao Enriquez, SELDA chairperson and daughter of one of the original plaintiffs in the Hawaii case, enjoined members of the bicameral conference committee “to adopt provisions which are acceptable to the victims and their relatives, instead of undermining their arduous and persevering efforts for justice and indemnification.”
“For one, we are deeply disappointed with the utter disregard shown by Sen. Joker Arroyo and Rep. Walden Bello when they dismissed the efforts of the 9,539 victims who filed the class action suit in Hawaii by pursuing a provision on disputable presumption. Such provision is dangerous, for if this is included and passed into law, the victims who filed and won the Hawaii case will once again undergo and endure the painful and rigorous process to prove that they were indeed violated during Martial Law. We are adamant that conclusive presumption should be the principle adopted to automatically consider the 9,539 victims who pursued and won the Hawaii case under the proposed Philippine law,” Enriquez opined.
SELDA agrees with the Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, himself a victim and among the class members in the Hawaii suit, in his position asserting for conclusive presumption, as this is in fact an acknowledgement of the State of the judgment of the US courts, which found Marcos and his cronies guilty for the human rights violations under Martial Law. “To run counter to this position is tantamount to opening a Pandora’s box for the Marcoses to evade the US courts’ judgment,” Enriquez said.
The human rights organization added that this is not to discriminate on other victims who failed to file and join in the class action suit. “We wish to remind our legislators and the public that the reason we are pushing for a law to indemnify martial law victims, is to finally enforce the Historic Hawaii Class Suit judgement which we won in 1992.” Enriquez declared “The Philippine government required that a law must be made to indemnify martial law victims from the ill-gotten money the Swiss government returned to them in 2003. They should be made a priority.”
Moreover, SELDA reiterated that the bicameral committee members should recognize human rights violations against all Martial Law victims, instead of discriminating against those who opted to take up arms to defend themselves and many others from further human rights violations
inflicted by the dictator.
“It will be the height of historical amnesia and ignorance to only recognize the rights violations against those who ‘peacefully exercised their rights,’ as if the situation during the Martial Law years would permit such exercise. Ang mga nagmartsa ba at pinagtanggol ang sarili sa mga miyembro ng Philippine Constabulary, at yung mga sumali sa New People’s Army ay walang mga karapatan? All those whose rights were violated should be rendered justice,” Enriquez said.
Finally the group reiterated its position to be included in the Human Rights Claim Board: “When Selda filed the now historic class suit vs, Marcos in 1986, we took on the research, interview and gathered documents that were brought to the Hawaii Courts. Many victims became members of Selda and we continue to have chapters in various parts of the country. The help of members in identifying and verifying victims would be valuable in the process once the law is enacted and implemented.” Enriquez ended. ###
Reference: Marie Hilao-Enriquez 09175616800