Church people urged to back political inmates’ release

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Photo: CBCP News

TAGUIG City, March 7, 2016 – A political prisoner has urged church leaders frequenting them in jail to back their bid to free all political inmates in the Philippines, citing the unjust treatment they receive in detention.

“A united message of the political prisoners to the visiting church people was for them to join the calls for the release of all political prisoners in the country,” said Alan Jazmines, a member of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Peace Panel’s Socio-Economic Reforms Committee in an interview.

He shared detained NDFP peace consultants like him have been imploring the administration, both past and present, for the release not only of fellow NDFP peace consultants, but of all the over 500 political prisoners nationwide.

Solidarity, support

“To the visiting church people and others, in the country and abroad, dedicated to the pursuit of respect for human rights, social justice, lasting peace, and substantive progress in the country, the detained NDFP peace consultants and other political prisoners expressed their call for solidarity and support in the efforts towards these goals,” he explained.

Jazmines, who stays at the Special Intensive Care Area 1 (SICA 1) Jail of Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, went on to lash out at the injustice detainees have to endure due to alleged “trumped-up” charges despite the 1956 Hernandez Doctrine decriminalizing political opposition and dissent.

Immediate release

“… the immediate release of all NDFP peace consultants and of all other political prisoners is an obligation of the GRP/GPH, as the arrest and continued detention of NDFP peace consultants and other political prisoners have all been in violation of standing peace agreements and of law,” he stressed.

Some of the problems he and fellow inmates raised to the visitors are:

  • arbitrary and illegal arrests
  • torture and other acts of violence by arresting forces
  • trumped-up charges, slow delivery of justice
  • poor and highly restrictive prison conditions

Jazmines stressed all these are in blatant disregard and in gross violation of the long-standing protection supposedly guaranteed in the Feb. 24, 1995 Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP/GPH).

Among the church people who checked on the detainees were pastors, the staff, and activists attached to the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), Catholic priests as well as officials and students of St. Columba’s College based in Melbourne, Australia.

‘Detention immersion’

According to Jazmines, the Australian delegation came for an immersion program among the down and deprived of Philippine society, including political prisoners.

“Aside from immersing with us, they also immersed beforehand or were scheduled to immerse afterwards, with other grossly deprived and oppressed sectors in our country, including the urban poor, workers, peasants, fishers, and indigenous peoples,” he added.

More recently, Bishop Jay Magness, Canon Peter Ng, and Fr. Fred Vergara of the Episcopal Church, U.S.A., Fr. Ramil Aguilar and others representing the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), Fr. Edprim Gaza and 20 Vincentian seminarians dropped by SICA 1 Jail to check the situation and to see what they can do to help.

Reportedly holding the most number of political prisoners in the country, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) facility confines supposedly “high risk” detainees.

Farmers turned fighters

Jazmines pointed out the bulk of SICA 1 inmates hail from the provinces, mostly farmers turned fighters for the rights and interests of the oppressed and exploited. Swelling their rank are those arrested for allegedly organizing among the masses.

Moreover, he said there are some 50 officers and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) under detention even if GRP and MILF had already completed a peace agreement and are waiting only for its legislative approval.

In the neighboring SICA 2 Jail are 200 more Moro detainees, a number of whom belong to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), while the rest are innocent civilians arrested in the wake of the Zamboanga City siege in Sept. 2013.

Jazmines said NDFP remains open to peace talks whenever possible. (Raymond A. Sebastián with reports from Yen Ocampo / CBCP News)

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