Not only does the Aquino government remain deaf to calls for the freedom of all political prisoners, it has continued the practice of detaining political dissenters.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – The number of political prisoners under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III is fast approximating that of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s.
According to human rights group Karapatan, 107 of the 385 political prisoners were arrested under the two-year administration of Aquino. The group also documented 222 cases of illegal arrest without detention from June 2010 until June 30 this year.
This Monday July 16, political prisoners in ten detention facilities from Luzon to Mindanao began their one-week fasting to push the call for the release of all political prisoners. Some of the political prisoners would stage a hunger strike from July 20 until July 23, in time for Aquino’s third State of the Nation Address (Sona).
“It has been two years since we started to campaign and lobby for the release of political prisoners who are in various jails, but President Noynoy Aquino not only ignored our call but also arrested and detained 107 more farmers, indigenous peoples, leaders of organizations and activists, as well as suspected rebels,” said Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairwoman of both Karapatan and Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda).
Enriquez said Aquino “cannot go on pretending that there are no political prisoners in the country because he is already responsible for detaining 107 activists based mostly on fabricated charges in the same way as Gloria did through the brutal Oplan Bantay Laya.” Oplan Bantay Laya is the counterinsurgency program implemented by the Arroyo administration.
During the nine-year reign of Arroyo, Karapatan documented 343 political prisoners arrested and detained.
Malacañang officials repeatedly denied the existence of political prisoners in the country. Based on Karapatan’s monitoring, 84 percent of political prisoners have been charged with common crimes while only four percent have been charged with rebellion. The rest are facing rebellion plus criminal charges.
Angie Ipong, Selda secretary general, said such practice “aims to portray political prisoners as common criminals and to prolong their detention.”
Data from Karapatan
“Aquino just continued Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya tactics under the new Oplan Bayanihan to file trumped-up charges against political activists because the government wanted to quell dissent.” Ipong said, referring to the administrations counterinsurgency program.
Majority of political prisoners are farmers who are fighting for their right to land, said Ipong.
In a separate statement, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano said “there is a rising trend of criminalization of land disputes wherein farmers who fight against land grabbing and land conversion are charged with common crimes.”.... MORE