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Pope’s clout sought for political prisoners’ release

01:07 AM January 19, 2015

On Dec. 17, 2014, three of the remaining Cuban 5 who were imprisoned by US authorities for 16 years—Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, and Antonio Guerrero—had been freed. The two others—Rene Gonzalez and Fernando Gonzalez—were released earlier. The Guardian, an international media outfit, reported that Pope Francis and the Vatican played a key role in the reopening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.

The Philippines’ human rights alliance Karapatan said, “Human rights activists in the Philippines find resonance in the Pope’s statements. Our political prisoners are like the Cuban 5, slapped and imprisoned for trumped-up charges. We appeal for the Pope’s intervention.”

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Thus, we stand for the message of hope and lasting peace brought by the papal visit and urge Pope Francis to intercede in our quest to free all political prisoners in the country, who are wrongfully jailed. According to Karapatan, there are 491 political prisoners in the country, 220 of whom were arrested under the Aquino administration.

Among the controversial political prisoners in the Philippines are Wilma Austria, Benito Tiamzon, Dominiciano Muya, Mary Grace Bautista, Jesus Alegre, Tirso Alcantara, Lourdes Alcantara, Ma. Loida Magpatoc, Moreta Alegre, and Andrea Rosal. They are held prisoners in different prison facilities around the country.

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Representatives of various sectors have taken turns in appealing to Pope Francis whom they dubbed as the Pope of the Poor. Farmers under the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, particularly those affected by “corporate and state land-grabbing,” will go into fasting for two days to highlight their call for genuine agrarian reform. Leaders of Hacienda Luisita farmers called on Pope Francis to fight with them against “landlessness, injustice and impunity.”

It is in the spirit of justice and peace, that we welcome the Pope’s presence for our government to heed the appeals of our people, especially the underprivileged and deprived sectors. We hope that the Pope will listen more attentively to our people’s concerns and intervene for their sake.

—LEAH A. LIBRADO, councilor, Davao City

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TAGS: Andrea Rosal, Antonio Guerrero, Benito Tiamzon, Dominiciano Muya, Fernando Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Jesus Alegre, Lourdes Alcantara, Ma. Loida Magpatoc, Mary Grace Bautista, Moreta Alegre, Political prisoners, Pope Francis, Ramon Labañino, Rene Gonzalez, Tirso Alcantara, Wilma Austria
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