Political prisoners (PPs) start hunger strike, relatives of PPs assert right to protest

Three days before the International Human Rights Day, at least 76 political prisoners (PPs) in different jails in the country started their hunger strike, while 122 PPs, many are sickly and elderly, will fast until December 10. 
“Our hunger strike and fasting are testament to our existence and the continuing injustice against us as political prisoners. We plea for our freedom, for our lives, and for our rights, which have been deprived from us. We call on all Filipinos to join us, through various forms of appeals, to enable the release of all political prisoners,” said the political prisoners in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City, on behalf of all PPs on hunger strike and fast. 

Among those on hunger strike are women’s rights activist Maria Miradel Torres, cancer survivor and volunteer health worker Miguela Peniero, public school teachers’ organizer Rene Boy Abiva, and peasant organizer Edward Lanzanas, co-accused of former political prisoner Andrea Rosal. 

Torres, 27, gave birth to her son while in detention. She was arrested in 2014, while on her way to a hospital for a check-up. She was charged with trumped up charges of murder based on the testimony of a military personnel who allegedly heard Miradel’s full name in a roll call of NPA rebels in an encounter. After a few months in jail for breastfeeding, her child was disallowed from staying inside. 

In a letter to President Duterte in July 2016, Miguela Peniero shared her ordeal. Aside from being arrested without a warrant, she was also not allowed to call a lawyer or her family. She was taken to a military camp where she was blindfolded while her hands were bound. “Pinaupo lang ako sa silya at binantaang tatadtarin ng bala ang katawan ko at ipapalapa sa aso pag nagtangka akong tumakas (They had me sit on a chair and threatened to rain bullets on me and feed me to the dogs if I tried to escape),” Miguela narrated. She remained in the same position until midnight, which hurt her back and aggravated her slipped disc condition, while her head throbbed and menstrual blood seeped through her clothes. In jail, Peniero’s health situation worsened, but through efforts of volunteer doctors from the Health Action for Human Rights, cancer cells in her parotid gland were detected earlier, so she was able to have her operation. 

Rene Boy is a government employee working the Pantawid Pamilya program of the Dept. of Social Work and Development, and at the same time organizing public school teachers through the ACT Teachers’ Partylist when he was illegally arrested in December 2012. Lanzanas, a peasant organizer, accompanied Andrea Rosal in her medical check-up on March 27, 2014, when both of them were arrested. Rosal was released on September 8, 2015, while Lanzanas remains in jail for the same trumped charges by military-backed witnesses. 

“My husband used to be a government worker arrested by the government because of trumped-up charges made-up by the government. It is the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, human rights advocates, friends and relatives who are calling for his release and all other political prisoners in the country who are unjustly charged. Sec. Jesus Dureza, we are not giving the government "undue pressure". It is the government who is denying us the "overdue action," said Mildred Abiva, wife of Rene Boy, in reaction to recent statements of Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza. 

At the sympathy fast center in Mendiola Manila, Gloria Almonte, wife of ailing political prisoner Dionisio Almonte, said ‘Undue public pressure? Our loved ones are in jail, languishing in dismal jail conditions. We give no apologies if their sense of righteousness and charity have been offended by protests, but we have had enough of excuses.’ Gloria shared that her husband’s medical condition have worsened since his incarceration, recently having developed tuberculosis while in jail. 

Cho-an Ocasla, daughter of political prisoner Bernabe Ocasla who recently passed away last November 28, 2016, earlier criticized the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) for what the OPAPP merely passes as ‘perceived delays’ – delays which have caused an innocent man his life. 
Cho-an, 25, expressed her frustration at ‘people who live comfortably in air-conditioned rooms and have never known the hardship of farmers.’ Cho-an shared her father’s renewed hope of being released and reminded the government to simply stop making promises that it cannot keep. Ocasla’s death have sparked numerous protests from different sectors demanding for the immediate release of all political prisoners, particularly those with humanitarian considerations.

Yesterday, December 5, 2016, Guiller Cadano and Gerald Salonga, youth political prisoners in Nueva Ecija, walked free from jail after their cases were dismissed by the court. “Guiller and Gerald’s case was dismissed. This is an indication that they are innocent and the cases against them were trumped-up and false. This is the situation of political prisoners all over the country: imprisoned because of cases built on lies. My son was imprisoned for two years and 4 months – lost time that he can never take back,’ said Amado “Tatay Boy” Cadano, father of recently released political prisoner Guiller Cadano. 

While Mr. Cadano celebrates his son’s release, he reiterates that neither OPAPP nor the GRP panel had anything to do with them being set free. ‘It took this long, but of course, they are innocent all along. How about the many political prisoners detained for decades who are also innocent? What about the time wasted in prison that they should have spent with their families and continuing their work?’ asks Mr. Cadano.  

Relatives of political prisoners said that ‘they will never get tired of repeating that their loved ones are not criminals, but victims of systematic political repression.’ Families, human rights organizations, and other peace advocates have considered Duterte’s earlier decisiveness to continue the peace negotiations as a positive change, but recent developments have showed a lag in the process. After the temporarily release of 19 NDFP consultants last August 2016, no other political prisoners have been released in line with the peace talks.  
Relatives of political prisoners led by Hustisya will join the rally led by the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacanang, Karapatan and Bayan on December 10. “As long as our loved ones are in jail, as long as social injustice, oppression and threats to peoples’ rights exists, we will be in the streets and other places to fight for genuine social change amid a system that persecutes individuals or movements,” the relatives of the PPs said.   

 

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