December 6, 2019
QUEZON CITY – Today, December 6, human rights group Karapatan and Kapatid, along with other people’s organizations, trooped to the Boy Scout Circle in Quezon City to call for the release of all political prisoners. The said mass action highlighted the plight of political prisoners and the ongoing injustices in jail, the issue of criminalization of activists and human rights defenders, and the weaponization of the law and legal processes to silence dissent.
According to data released by Karapatan as of November 2019, there are now 629 political prisoners in the country; more than half, or 382, were arrested under the Duterte government. Of this figure, there are 50 elderly, 93 women, 113 sickly, 11 peace consultants, and 5 were minors during the time of arrest.
Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor said that these figures are staggering. "The numbers reflect the vindictive, militarist and repressive position of the Duterte government. Duterte has already arrested more activists in a span of three years than his predecessor's entire six years. This is also indicative that the situation has progressively worsened, and that our laws have been increasingly weaponized to criminalize dissent."
Clamor linked the high number of trumped-up charges and arbitrary arrests to the government’s repressive policies, foremost Executive Order No. 70 (s2018), which created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). The structures and partnerships orchestrated by the NTF, particularly its Legal Cooperation Cluster, is tasked to draw up and file legal offensives against activists and human rights defenders.
“We continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of individuals who were arbitrarily incarcerated as a form of harassment and persecution for their relentless fight for social justice. We deplore the Duterte administration for maintaining its militarist policy of criminalizing defenders and social activists. On the other hand, amid these attacks against critics, the regime and its corrupt bureaucratic machinery have been freeing convicted plunderers and perpetrators of human rights violations, killings, torture, disappearances, and harassment,” he said.
“The double standard in our justice system is infuriatingly ironic. While political prisoners are painstakingly suffering inside filthy and cramped jails, the likes of Imelda Marcos, the wife of the former dictator, is now roaming free despite her conviction. Others like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, along with her corrupt officials in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and Commission on Audit, are now absolved from graft cases in the Ombudsman. Other corrupt and vile, but rich individuals such as infamous Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez, find loopholes by trying to buy their way out of justice. This happens because jail management is focused on profiteering and further perpetrating injustices even behind bars,” added Clamor.
The Karapatan official said that this reeks of the gruesome state of the justice system under the Duterte regime, in which criminals are being absolved one after the other from the crimes they committed against the Filipino people, while peace consultants, social activists, human rights defenders, and administration critics continuously face the wrath of state persecution.
Clamor also noted how this same fate is being experienced in other countries, including Hong Kong, Venezuela, and Palestine, where tyrants continue to circumvent laws and use state machinery to suppress dissent and pacify the legitimate calls of victims and various sectors. Issues raised include unjust laws and neoliberal policies which continue to disenfranchise the poor and marginalized – concerns that are similar to those being experienced and criticized in the Philippines.
“Karapatan expresses its solidarity with the brave political prisoners around the world who suffer the unjust and inhumane consequences of standing in the line of fire. We reiterate that political prisoners are not criminals. They are courageous and exemplary individuals who did not waiver in advancing their political beliefs, regardless of the powerful forces that they are confronting. They are farmers, peasant advocates, workers, trade unionists, teachers, agriculturists, health workers, pastors, peace consultants, freedom fighters, community leaders, human rights defenders, and citizens who struggle for a better and humane society,” he explained.
“The rising number of political prisoners indicates the worsening tyranny and repression in the country. Free all political prisoners! Resist tyranny! We likewise enjoin everyone to join us in the December 10 protest, in commemoration of International Human Rights Day,” ended Clamor.