As formal talks begin, over 500 political prisoners still detained

Bulatlat file photo
Bulatlat file photo

“This policy and practice of filing trumped-up criminal charges against social workers, religious, human rights advocates, leaders of people’s organizations and consultants to the peace process have to stop.”

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat

MANILA – As formal talks began today between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, human rights alliance Karapatan reiterated its call to free four other detained NDFP consultants and more than 500 political prisoners.

Last week, 19 NDFP consultants were released on bail. Some of them, including Wilma Tiamzon, Benito Tiamzon, Alan Jazmines, Adelberto Silva and Renante Gamara are now in Oslo to participate in the talks.

Karapatan reiterated the call for the release of peace consultants Eduardo Sarmiento, Leopoldo Caloza, Emeterio Antalan and Renato Baleros Sr.

Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said Sarmiento, Caloza and Antalan–all of whom are detained at the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City – have been “wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit.”

Sarmiento was convicted of illegal possession of firearms and explosives in January 2014. His lawyers argued that the court committed serious errors of facts and law in finding Sarmiento guilty despite the failure of the prosecution to prove the offense beyond reasonable doubt. His lawyers also said the prosecution failed to establish the chain of custody of the fragmentation grenade allegedly taken from Sarmiento.

Two other charges against Sarmiento – use of fictitious name and arson—were dismissed for lack of evidence.

Caloza and Antalan, meanwhile, were convicted for the murder of a certain Kathlyn Ramos in September 2015. The Taguig local court’s decision was based solely on the testimony of Bayani Domingo, who claimed to be a former member of the New People’s Army before he surrendered to the military in 2006. Domingo admitted that he did not see Antalan and Caloza kill Kathlyn Ramos.

Twenty-one charges were filed against Caloza and Antalan. All except one were dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Lawyers of the three NDFP consultants have filed motions for reconsideration to seek the courts’ reversal of the decisions.

Moreover, Karapatan has been calling for the release of Baleros on humanitarian grounds. Baleros was brought to a hospital in Manila, July 2. He was diagnosed with acute renal failure, severe sepsis and acute inflammation of kidney tissues, calysys and renal pelvis and pneumonia, which he got from the Samar Provincial Jail.

Baleros faced charges of murder and frustrated murder, robbery in band and multiple homicide, and arson. All cases, except one, have been dismissed.

Baleros’s urgent motion for release on bail will be heard tomorrow at the Catbalogan Regional Trial Court Branch 28.

‘Junk fabricated charges’

Palabay called on the Duterte administration to withdraw all the trumped-up charges against all political prisoners to facilitate the release of the more than 500 other political prisoners. She said the act would also be an affirmation of previously signed agreements by both parties.

Palabay said the arrest and detention of political dissenters violate the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig).

Karapatan also condemned the August 19 arrest of Amelia Pond, coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Southern Mindanao in Cebu City.

“This policy and practice of filing trumped up criminal charges against social workers, religious, human rights advocates, leaders of people’s organizations and consultants to the peace process have to stop,” Palabay said. ()

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