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Political prisoners, stay fearless

It took novelist and Filipino professor Jun Cruz Reyes to articulate for us the risks of expressing ourselves boldly against a repressive regime. He said at the recent University of the Philippines National Writers Workshop, “Sa pagitan ng tula at kalayaan, naghihintay ang kulungan (In between poetry and history, the prison awaits).”

Last week, the Global Day of Action to Free All Political Prisoners was observed with families and friends of Philippine political prisoners rallying in front of Camp Crame, Quezon City. We should not be blind to the irony of the situation—in a democracy, ridden with faults though it may be, we have 532 political prisoners in jails all over the country.

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By political prisoner, one means a prisoner of conscience, one taken in detention for his/her belief that contradicts the status quo. In nine times out of 10, these prisoners have been arrested and detained by Duterte law enforcers on trumped-up charges and planted evidence.

The human rights organization Karapatan reported that four political prisoners have died under this regime. Karapatan also reported the case of Ge-ann Perez, 20, illegally arrested in March this year together with National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultants Frank Fernandez, 71, and Cleofe Lagtapon, 66. Karapatan claimed that Perez “is a leprosy patient and for a time during her illegal arrest, treatment for her condition became irregular.”

Recently, Fides Lim, a former political prisoner herself and wife of imprisoned peace warrior Vicente “Vic” Ladlad, 70, who suffers from asthma worsened by prison conditions at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Bicutan, Taguig, appealed to the government to allow him to seek better medical attention in Makati City.

In her Facebook note, Lim thanked the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 32 that granted “‘for humanitarian consideration’ part of our urgent medical motion to allow my husband Vic… to undergo medical check-up at the hospital ‘as soon as possible.’ At least for now this means Vic can be treated immediately by his regular doctors as he has been getting sick too often in prison, which is compounding his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. I would have wanted to thank the prosecution too for possibly an unexpected small mercy. But the ‘Opposition’ it filed against Vic’s medical motion is only too clear about its high regard for neither the right to health nor the right to life, and its incapacity to appreciate the difference between a tiny prison clinic and a real hospital—unless your name is Imelda or Gloria or Enrile.”

In a just and humane world, organizations like Karapatan, Kapatid (Families and Friends of Political Prisoners) or Task Force Detainees of the Philippines are unnecessary. In this same world, the likes of Ladlad, Rey Casambre, Perez, Fernandez or Lagtapon roam the land freely and use their brilliant gifts for community organizing, writing or teaching for the benefit of many Filipinos. By any kind of logic, they should be set free.

What is happening—and the practice hasn’t abated despite threat of sanctions from the community of nations through the United Nations—is that community leaders and activists are vilified as communists (red-tagging), arrested and thrown in jail to languish for years. It’s like a throwback to Marcosian times.

As Lim observed, “The government has allowed real crooks and the biggest criminals in this country who are under trial to seek hospital confinement and to even grant them bail for feigned sicknesses. All of these people like Imelda, Enrile, Gloria, Revilla and Jinggoy are now scot-free because of the special treatment given to crooks and plunderers by this administration.”

She continued, “There are many other political prisoners like Vic who are likewise victims of this administration’s trumped-up cases of planted firearms and are very sick. Already, three have died for lack of adequate medical attention and urgent treatment. Right now, another very sick political prisoner is Frank Fernandez, who’s in the cell beside Vic’s. He suffered from a stroke. He’s rail-thin. He fell to the floor at 2 a.m. yesterday and was unable to get up. He has to be aided to go to the toilet. And note, that he has just come from the Philippine Heart Center for a checkup. He’s now being administered IV fluids.”

It’s time to take up the challenge for the times hurled by the long-suffering Lim and be in solidarity with all prisoners of conscience: “There is nothing more powerful than those who are unafraid.”

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Elizabeth Lolarga is a retired teacher and devotes her time to writing, painting and minding her grandchild.

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TAGS: Jun Cruz Reyes, Political prisoners, Vicente Ladlad
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