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356 prisoners of conscience still detained in PH

/ 11:34 PM December 14, 2011

This refers to the news article on political prisoners. (“356 political prisoners go on hunger strike,” Inquirer, 12/8/11) The report certainly helped in raising public awareness of the existence of political prisoners in the country, as well as the campaign of human rights groups and advocates for a grant of general, unconditional and omnibus amnesty for all political prisoners by the Aquino administration.

The campaign entails much work. Difficult and intricate legal and political issues are involved. For instance, there is no existing domestic law that even vaguely defines what a political prisoner is, which is highly unfortunate and shows the obsoleteness and inadequacy of our country’s legal system, and the inability of our laws to address the Filipino people’s present realities and experiences. Although the amnesty for political prisoners declared by the Cory administration after the fall of Marcos was generally hailed as one of the highlights of her administration’s so-called “re-democratization,” subsequent constitutional and legislative reforms failed to stop the socio-political phenomenon of the political prisoners—perhaps because it was assumed that the fall of Marcos signaled the end of political repression. Clearly, that has not been the case.

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However, to understand the plight of the political prisoners, an official definition or legislation is not entirely necessary. International conventions have long defined what a political prisoner is in the context of humanitarian laws and treaties. Civil society agrees on a common definition in the context of universal civil liberties. These definitions, in fact, made possible the ratification of several human rights declarations and conventions for the protection of the rights of political prisoners.

Even the media can play an important role to clarify what a political prisoner is. Case in point: In one news report, I was referred as someone “who claims to be a political prisoner.” I took it in stride and opined that perhaps the reporter lacked information about the circumstances of my arrest and continuing detention. If so, I thought, the clause would be safe and prudent. However, if the labeling was done in deference to presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda’s earlier statements that “the current number of political prisoners in the country is zero,” that would be an entirely different story.

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I am a political prisoner. I was arrested in Samar while conducting a perfectly legal endeavor, in connection with a research on human rights. I was tortured, interrogated and charged with a non-bailable criminal offense—a falsified complaint accusing me of illegal possession of explosive—to justify my imprisonment under military custody. Until now, I remain incarcerated, despite the violations of legal processes in the handling of my case. I am a political prisoner. There are 355 others like me in the Philippines.

—ERICSON L. ACOSTA,

political prisoner,

Calbayog Sub-Provincial Jail,

Carayman, Calbayog City,

Western Samar

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TAGS: amnesty, human rights, letters, Political prisoners
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