Aquino’s disturbing indifference

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We at the Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines in the United Kingdom are deeply concerned with the Philippine government’s seeming lack of interest on reported irregularities and rights abuses in the arrest and continued illegal detention of Filipino artist Ericson Acosta.

Acosta was arrested without warrant on Feb. 13, 2011 in San Jorge, Samar, in an upland militarized village where he was conducting research on the local human rights and environmental situation in the region. In his counter-affidavit, Acosta said he stayed in a military camp for three days where he was interrogated and tortured for 44 hours straight. He was charged with illegal possession of explosives to justify his illegal arrest. He is currently detained at the Calbayog sub-provincial jail, where troopers from the 8th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army has camped out within jail premises, thus keeping up the harassment and intimidation that Acosta, his family and visitors have been subjected to.

Acosta has complained about this and appealed his case directly to visiting local officers of the  Commission on Human Rights (PCHR) in the Eastern Visayas. These PCHR officials saw with their own eyes the highly irregular military deployment inside a civilian detention facility. However, the PCHR has not made any report public, and it has neither publicly condemned these rights abuses.

A petition for review which cites serious irregularities and rights abuses was filed by Acosta’s counsel, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), before the Department of Justice in September 2011. Acosta’s complainants have failed to file any comment on this petition. Without such opposition, the review petition should have been resolved within 60 days. However, the DOJ has issued no resolution on the petition. The NUPL recently filed a motion for the immediate resolution of the petition.

No less than President Aquino’s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, has told local reporters that “there are no political prisoners” in the Philippines. When asked about government’s response to the plight of Acosta and some 350 other persons who are now in jail for their political beliefs, Lacierda could only reply with empty rhetoric. Government indifference to the plight of the detainees has caused very real suffering to them and their families.

We urge concerned Philippine authorities, especially DOJ officials, to act without delay on Acosta’s petition for review and to immediately release him. His rights continue to be violated each day he is kept in jail. The reported rights abuses and irregularities must be thoroughly investigated and acted upon.

Indeed, it is very disturbing to see that a government led by the son of a revered political prisoner and democracy icon has turned a blind eye to the plight of Ericson Acosta and political detainees in the Philippines.

—REV. CANON BARRY NAYLOR,honorary president, Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines (CHRP-UK); urban canon and parish priest of the Abbey and Holy Spirit Ministries, Leicester

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