A plea from a political prisoner
Last month, I joined my fellow political prisoners in different jails across the country in a fasting and hunger strike (the highest form of struggle inside the prison) to pressure the Duterte administration on the overdue release of political prisoners and its commitment to immediately release those who are sick or elderly and the women. Our families and supporters outside gathered in solidarity fasting until the commemoration of International Human Rights Day last Dec. 10. It has been months since the government made those sweet promises to release political detainees as part of the peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Government of the Philippines. But until now, only one political prisoner has walked free; a bad fate also met Bernabe Ocasla, a political detainee in Manila City Jail who died waiting for his freedom.
While in the middle of our fasting and hunger strike, we heard the news about the pronouncement of President Duterte that he will no longer release any political prisoners because he already gave too many concessions to the Left. He reiterated that 21 peace consultants and staff of the NDFP have already been freed and were able to participate in the peace talks in Norway, a big concession on his part; the Left should understand the situation. President Duterte also insisted that he will release political prisoners in 48 hours if a bilateral ceasefire will be forged (contrary to what Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process officials said, that the release will take time due to legal and judicial processes). Many of us are disappointed with the preconditions of the President, contrary to his early pronouncement in May that the release of political prisoners through general amnesty, which he personally recommended, is one of his commitments aside from restoring the long-stalled peace talks. Previously, the GRP reaffirmed and reconstituted peace agreements with the NDFP such as the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, which is a good indication of political will.
Many of us were incarcerated because of our political beliefs and actions. We were charged with trumped-up criminal cases and languished in the worst conditions behind bars for years because of political persecution and the slow pace of the justice system in the country.
The President treating us as playing cards to put leverage in a poker game is a big insult to our families. This also only shows a lack of trust on the other side in addressing the root cause of rebellion over almost five decades. He will be then questioned about his sincerity in seeking peace. The President must firmly understand that the release of political prisoners is a matter of justice and part of the government’s obligations to offer bigger incentives to accelerate the peace negotiations.
On the other hand, President Duterte’s war against illegal drugs has been criticized and condemned by various groups and personalities because of rampant human rights violations. Worse, this was used as an excuse by state forces to continue the counterinsurgency campaign Oplan Bayanihan, which resulted in significant numbers of killings of civilians and members of progressive organizations, illegal detentions and militarization in the countryside.
As the third round of peace negotiations is coming early in 2017, political prisoners are still steadfast about the outcome of the talks with regard to their release and the agenda on socio-economic reforms. Failure of the government again to bring us home to our families this Yuletide season will put this outcome into question. Nevertheless, we will keep guard and watch for another statement of the President and continue our legal battles in court. In fact this year, 20 political detainees were released because of the merits of their legal defenses.
Vindication for political prisoners will not only prove our innocence but will further strengthen our struggle in serving the people and in the relentless quest for just and lasting peace.
JOSEPH CUEVAS, political prisoner, Special Intensive Care Area 1, Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City
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