Kin of political prisoners demand freedom, resumption of peace talks

Human rights groups and families of political prisoners march to Department of Justice to call for the release of 503 political prisoners and resumption of peace talks. (Photo by Arneth Asiddao/Bulatlat)

Human rights group Karapatan deems the suspension of peace talks as “another indication of the Duterte regime’s disinterest in pursuing and committing to reforms that benefit the Filipino people and in meeting its obligations to release political prisoners.”

By ARNETH ASIDDAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Violi Morillo, wife of political prisoner Norberto Morillo, had hoped Duterte meant his promise to release all political detainees two years ago.

Norberto, a farmer and volunteer for a rights group, was arrested and falsely charged with 19 counts of murder in 2008.

Violi joined relatives of other political prisoners in a protest action outside the Department of Justice, June 20, to urge the release of all political prisoners amid the recent suspension of the formal peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines’s (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) upon orders of President Duterte.

Human rights alliance Karapatan denounced the GRP’s unilateral decision to halt peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), calling it “another indication of the Duterte regime’s disinterest in pursuing and committing to reforms that benefit the Filipino people and in meeting its obligations to release political prisoners.”

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said, “This administration just doesn’t want to talk about the country’s primary problems because it will get exposed as the leading perpetrator of human rights violations.”

On June 14, Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP) Secretary Jesus Dureza said during a press briefing that the formal talks is suspended “to engage the public… and get their support.”

The group, however, said the public has been clamoring for the resumption of the peace talks so that “issues of landlessness, landgrabbing, low wages, dismal social services” can be addressed.

“In truth, Duterte and his cohorts wanted to deny the more than 503 political prisoners their freedom from incarceration. They wanted to perpetuate the practice of illegally arresting political dissenters, activists, and development workers based on trumped-up charges,” Palabay added.

Of the 503 political prisoners, 173 were arrested during the Duterte administration.

Crackdown across all sectors

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) Secretary General Antonio Flores said farmers who fight for their right to land are being arrested and killed because of the government’s lack of commitment in resolving land issues, which he considers as the country’s main problem.

According to Karapatan, 123 farmers were killed since Duterte came to power until March this year.

Last February, five farmers from Ilagan City, Isabela were arrested by soldiers. According to Karapatan’s documentation, the victims were subjected to “intense interrogation” and were slapped with trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. The following month, six youth organizers from KMP were also arrested in Negros Oriental, including UP Cebu graduate Myles Albasin.

“The problem is landlessness, why is the government intensifying military operations in the countryside? Why are they arresting farmers?”

The labor sector said they are experiencing the same repression under the Duterte administration.

“Workers just want to have secure jobs, benefits and fair wages but the government’s response is to kill and illegally arrest them,” Kilusang Mayo Uno added.

Former political prisoner Sharon Cabusao-Silva of Gabriela, on the other hand, reiterated that joining the struggle for genuine social change is not a crime.

“Women political detainees are not criminals. They are your mothers, siblings, and wives who chose to fight for the future of their children in a country ensnared by poverty, oppression, and foreign exploitation,” Silva said.

According to latest Karapatan data, there are 45 women political prisoners in the country.

Silva decried the inhuman treatment political detainees experience in jails, including not being given enough food and medical attention.

Aside from harsh prison conditions, Silva also slammed the “rotten” justice system that political prisoners have to put up with and said that it is no longer surprising for the “macho-fascist” Duterte administration to subject women to abuse and mistreatment.

“Duterte likes to target women who resist and fight for their rights.”

No change

Violi said the situation has even become worse under Duterte. “Because more people are getting detained, jails become too crowded. The food and water are not enough,” Morilla explained.

Despite the dismal conditions of political prisoners in the country, Violi still believes in the power of collective action in pushing Duterte to meet their demands.

“Mass actions are important because it is a way to pressure the president. We need to move. We victims and families of illegal arrests think that it is the most effective way to help them get their freedom back,” she said. ()

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