The visit of Pope Francis in the Philippines shines a ray of light to the hope for freedom for political prisoners in the country.
Now in a hunger strike until the government hears their cry for liberty, the plight of political prisoners is exemplified by the words of Isaiah (58:6) “This is the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loosen the chains of injustice and untie the cords of yoke, to set the oppressed free, and break every yoke.”
In his speeches, the Pope of the Poor has demonstrated his bias for the poor, oppressed, and exploited peoples of the world, and denounced the ‘cult of money’ that yokes on the world’s poorest. Through the Pope’s intercession, it is hoped that political prisoners who come from the ranks of the country’s poorest and most marginalized–the landless peasants, the out-of-school youth, the workers, and from the indigenous peoples–will gain the freedom bereft from them by the State.
Political prisoners are the survivors, the living victims, of the Philippine government’s counter-insurgency policies that wreak mayhem in the countryside. In the Philippines, where the harsh inequalities provide fertile ground for armed revolution, revolutionaries are kept in jail and charged with trumped-up criminal charges. However, many political prisoners are civilians who were caught in the web of the government’s suppression campaign or imprisoned in their practice and assertion of democratic rights.
There are more than 20 indigenous peoples who are political prisoners today. One of them is Eddie Cruz from the Dumagat tribe in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Eddie was tortured by military agents and then imprisoned for false charges. In June, Eddie would count his 5th year in jail.
At least 248 Moro people are political detainees. These are innocent civilians, arrested, detained and tortured in the conduct of the government’s anti-terrorism campaign. These Moro prisoners compose more than half of the 491 political prisoners in the Philippines.
Aquino’s internal security scheme Oplan Bayanihan enacted in 2011 and similar counter-insurgency programs of past administrations have exacted much strife and hardship of Filipinos, especially those in the rural areas. Vast tracts areas in the country are militarized today, and many human rights violations, especially to poor peasants and indigenous peoples, result from the massive deployment of military units.
The misery and affliction of the Filipino people is so glaring that no amount of image-building and propaganda campaigns of the Aquino government are enough to cover these up. The conscientious and brave men and women who took up the courage to speak and struggle against these injustices are the targets of the Aquino government’s suppression campaign. Those who escaped extrajudicial killings and disappearances now languish in jails from fabricated charges.
When President Benigno Aquino Simeon III took over the reins of the government in 2010, the Filipino people hoped that the son of a former political prisoner would take the first step in resolving the long-wrought unresolved problems of society by releasing political prisoners. However, that hope has faded in the years that followed, as the Aquino government continued to subject political dissenters and innocent civilians to illegal arrests, torture, and imprisonment.
The hunger strike of the political prisoners was the only recourse left to them to focus government attention to their plight. Their battle cry is the release of all political prisoners in the country, as a gesture of sincerity of the Philippine government to address the roots of the long-running revolution bred by the historic problems of Philippine society. The political prisoners are the living symbols of this historic injustice.
Free political prisoners now!
Resume GPH-NDFP peace talks!