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Arrest Imelda! Release political prisoners!

Letters .

WHEN peasant Bernabe Ocasla, 66, was brought to a hospital in November 2016, he had already been detained for nine years for fabricated charges. He had a cardiac arrest while incarcerated at the Manila City Jail, and yet even in the hospital, his jail guards kept him handcuffed to his bed and didn’t allow the nurses and his relatives to change his yellow shirt for “fear” that he might escape. Ocasla died on Nov. 30, 2016, after he suffered another cardiac arrest and had been in a coma.

Human rights worker and peasant Gerardo dela Pena was 74 when he was wrongly convicted in a Bicol court. He was arrested by the 49th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Matango, Vinzons, Camarines Norte on March 21, 2013, and charged with false cases of murder along with five other John Does. He was detained at the provincial jail for more than a year and was immediately brought to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City on July 2014 after his conviction. He said he was given only one chance to speak in court and was convicted shortly after his case was heard. He is enduring hypertension and cataract while in detention.

Tatay Gerry is the former chairman of Selda and also a member of Karapatan-Camarines Norte. He was detained for a year during martial law and was charged with robbery in band. He was released in 1983.

On Feb. 12, 2017, peace consultant and Bayan Metro Manila officer Ferdinand Castillo was illegally arrested and subjected to physical and psychological torture. His captors from the police and military planted false evidence against him to justify charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. He is now 59, and is currently suffering from rheumatic heart disease and hypertension, among other ailments.

We can go on and on. In fact, three more peace consultants — Vicente Ladlad, Adelberto Silva, Rafael Baylosis — all elderly and sick, were arrested without any consideration on due process and their medical conditions. As of September 2018, out of the 517 political prisoners, there are 40 elderly and 115 sick political prisoners facing fabricated charges.

Throughout the years, there was no statement whatsoever that the Philippine National Police hesitated on arresting and jailing these activists and peace advocates because they are old and sick. No “humanitarian consideration” was given in the manner of their arrest; many were even denied of timely medical assistance.

Yet in the past few days, the PNP and some government officials suddenly found their “humanitarian” character when Imelda Marcos, a woman who was literally the partner in crime of her late dictator-husband in looting public coffers and in killing and maiming thousands, was convicted of seven counts of graft. They suddenly have become spokespersons of the thieves known as the Marcos family, bargaining on behalf of a convicted thief.

Karapatan decries this prevalent, longstanding and increasingly blatant double standard used by government authorities in dealing with the arrest of convicted plunderer Imelda Marcos. Such acts starkly show the abominable and broken justice system in the Philippines.

When rich fascists and corrupt officials are made to pay for their crimes, they easily get off the hook by exerting their political and moneyed connections to make themselves comfortable and immune from accountability. When political prisoners and the common tao are accused of false or lesser offenses, nag-uunahan pa ang mga pulis at iba pa sa gobyerno na magbigay ng maling katwiran nila sa mga aresto.

The Philippines has become such a cesspool of injustice especially under the Duterte regime, a government that had no humanitarian consideration in killing the poor and even children, a government that had no humanitarian consideration in arbitrarily arresting, torturing, and raping individuals in police or military custody.

For the longest time, it was and it is the Filipino people who have made these arrogant and incorrigible tyrants accountable for their grave crimes. And we will continue to do so, as long as injustice and unpeace prevail. –Cristina Palabay, secretary general, Karapatan

 

Congrats, Inday

THE National Union of Journalists of the Philippines congratulates our former chair, Inday Espina-Varona for winning the Prize for Independence handed out by Reporters Without Borders in London.

We thank Inday for recognizing the role independent Filipino journalists have played in defending and advancing our people’s rights and liberties and defending democracy despite the dangers they face, not least from the very forces supposedly sworn to protect and preserve our freedoms.

We share here Inday’s acceptance speech, from which we all can and should draw inspiration:

Thank you, Reporters Without Borders for this honor. I share this with embattled Philippine colleagues: the 185 killed since the 1986 restoration of a fragile, perpetually threatened democracy, 12 of them in the first two years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s rule.

This is also for colleagues who face death threats, vilification campaigns, and revocation of access to coverage, for doing what journalists are supposed to do — questioning official acts and claims, especially on issues of human rights and corruption.

Other threats are more insidious — like having journalists becoming witnesses to cases filed by cops in the aftermath of raids, practically a quid pro quo for continued access to police operations.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has launched ta campaign to repeal the law that fuels this practice. We hope you can all support the NUJP in this struggle.

There is another grave problem we face: the proposed draconian changes to the law that would make terrorists of practically all critics of the government and make journalists and media accessories whenever we give voice to persons and groups the government deems “terrorist” — practically all dissenters.

I am proud of Philippine journalism, of colleagues who probe not only the effects of growing autocracy, but also the roots  of social woes that allowed a false messiah to bedazzle our people.

If I am independent, it is because there are colleagues and fellow citizens  who fight for rights and freedoms, who refuse to be silent in the face of thousands of murders and other injustices, who fight on despite threats, arrests and torture, whose words and deeds speak from beyond the grave.

Filipino journalists are brave because we come after the many who showed courage over hundreds of years.

And we are brave because our people are brave.

We cannot let them down. We will never forget — never forget the dark past. And never forget that we triumphed over that past and will again overcome. –National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

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