“Those who have wrongly accused him and detained him must be held accountable for the death of Alex Arias.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Tributes for political prisoner Alexander Arias have poured, following his death in the eve of this year’s International Human Rights Day.
“He offered his life up until his last breath in showing and upholding the principles of the national democratic movement. He was determined to be released and once again join the Filipino people in their struggle,” said the political prisoners of Camp Bagong Diwa in a statement.
Arias, who was only 63, passed away on Dec. 9 after suffering a heart attack. He earlier complained of difficulty in breathing but was only brought to a hospital 19 hours later.
He was the third political prisoner to die while in detention under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, painting a stark contrast to his promise when he was still president-elect that he will release all political prisoners.
There are 540 political prisoners, as of this writing, according to human rights group Karapatan.
Selfless service to the people
Political prisoners of Camp Bagong Diwa said Arias poured his time and energy in serving the ranks of farmers and workers from the 1980s, even while in detention, and until his unfortunate death.
In a statement, they wrote that Arias found it easy to embrace the struggle of the Filipino people having experienced the feudal and semi-feudal exploitation himself.
He served as one of the leaders of a local farmers group, Alyansang Magbubukid sa Ika-apat na Distrito ng Laguna, and eventually many other organizations in the region.
Their struggles to fight exploitation were rather fruitful. For one, farmers in Quezon province were able to increase their share in produce from a measly 75-25 share with the landlord to 50-50. Farm workers also received higher wages as a result of their struggle.
In 1987, he represented the ranks of farmers in a dialogue before the provincial government during the ceasefire negotiation between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Philippine government, where he raised various issues such as the coco levy fund.
Political prisoners in Camp Bagong Diwa said he remained steadfast in pushing for genuine change, even when there were times that the people’s movement appeared to be declining in Laguna. He worked hard and it eventually paid off with the establishment of a local chapter of today’s biggest farmers group in the country, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.
As a political prisoner
His fellow political prisoners in Camp Bagong Diwa said Arias was first detained under then President Fidel Ramos due to a trumped-up murder charges and was consequently released.
He then once again joined the peasant movement in their province and again earned the ire of state security forces and landed families. He was arrested on April 7, 2012 due to a trumped-up kidnapping and homicide charges.
Political prisoners described Arias as cheerful and comradely. As a political prisoner, he helped in advocating for their release and for the rights and welfare of all detainees.
His lawyer, Maria Sol Taule, said in a Facebook page it was unfortunate that he had died while waiting for the dismissal of the fabricated charges against him. Meanwhile, she added, the likes of former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, former President now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the other half of the conjugal Marcos dictatorship Imelda Marcos, and Senator Bong Revilla are scot-free.
Who must be held responsible?
Orly Marcellana, a peasant leader in Southern Tagalog, said in a Facebook post that Arias is neither a criminal nor a plunderer. He added that the late political prisoner only stepped on the so-called rights of landed families and big business interests, whom he widely criticized along with state security forces.
“Those who have wrongly accused him and detained him must be held accountable for the death of Alex Arias,” Marcellana said.
Taule said, “Though you did not live to see your freedom, your hands are no longer in handcuffs and no more iron bars separate you from us. You will remain in our hearts as we continue the struggle to free all political prisoners.”