On the occasion of the Nelson Mandela International Day yesterday, political prisoners in BJMP facilities in Negros Island called for the immediate release of sickly and elderly political prisoners, consistent with the writ of kalayaan being advocated by the Supreme Court, led by Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, to help solve the grave problem of over-congestion in Philippine prisons.
The late Nelson Mandela, an activist lawyer and president of South Africa in the ‘90s, was one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners, having been incarcerated for around 30 years for his anti-apartheid advocacy, a press release from Kapatid Negros said.
The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, revised in December 2015, was named in his honor. To date, there are 139 political prisoners in Negros Island, of which 27 are women and one LGBT.
This number is almost 20 percent of the total 778 political prisoners in the whole country.
They are mostly farmers, farm workers, and ordinary folk arrested on planted evidence – usually grenades and other explosive devices, and whose prolonged detention are based on multiple trumped-up charges and malicious accusations of being NPA members and/or belonging to alleged front organizations of the communist movement.
In the infamous Negros crackdown on October 31, 2019, the government served highly questionable search warrants that led to the illegal arrests of 57 activists, unionists, and cultural workers.
Among those arrested and still facing trumped up charges were Albert dela Cerna and his daughter Karina Mae dela Cerna, as well as Danilo Tabura of KMP, Ann Krueger of BIEN, and spouses Mermalyn and Romulo Bito-on of the Makabayan party-list coalition.
Of that group, Imelda Sultan and Ma. Lindy Perocho are still in prison, at the Escalante City Jail. The rest of those arrested on that night have been freed after the court dismissed the various charges against them.
Last week, the dela Cerna family were allowed to post bail by the RTC in La Carlota after finding that the “evidence of guilt against the accused is not strong” in a supposedly non-bailable though trumped-up, qualified trafficking charges.
Presently, a number of Negros political prisoners are sickly and old, and their immediate release should be seriously considered by the Marcos Junior government, based on the prospective writ of kalayaan.
Among them are 61-year old diabetic Corazon Javier and 63-year old Azucena Garubat, political prisoners at the Canlaon City Jail, and the last remaining victims of the infamous SEMPO 2 PNP/Army simultaneous operation of March 30, 2019.
Other Negros political prisoners whose immediate release should also be effected by the Marcos Junior government are 66-year old Epifanio Romano, 65-year old Diosdado Caballero, 63-year olds Andres Pasyonela and Sidwin Gordoncillo, and 60-year olds Nilda Bertolano and Abraham Villanueva.
In addition, there are relevant issues which some BJMP jails in Negros need to immediately address, if it is to remain faithful to the United Nations Nelson Mandela Rules. These include the inadequate food being served at the Himamaylan City Jail, which frequently consists only of rice and dried fish, as well as the lack of sleeping beds at the San Carlos District Jail and the Binalbagan District Jail, which forces a good number of political prisoners and other Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) to sleep on the cold cement floor.
The press release also reminded the Marcos Junior government that these and related problems jeopardize the BJMP’s safekeeping and development goals relative to the thousands of PDLs all over Negros Island today. The rising number of political prisoners reflects the worsening human rights violations and attacks on civil and political rights in the country that has started to worsen during Duterte’s 6-year misrule, and continues under the Marcos Junior regime.
They expect the number of political prisoners in Negros to exponentially increase with the brutal counter-insurgency campaign of the 3rd Infantry Spearhead Division in Negros Island that started this month.*