Malaybalay jailbirds urge release of PHL political prisoners

MALAYBALAY CITY(MindaNews/20 July) – Political prisoners languishing at the city jail here have echoed calls for the release of all political prisoners in the country ahead of President Benigno Aquino III’s third state of the nation address on Monday.

In a statement, Karapatan said that city jail inmates Pedro Heyrana Codaste and Fortunato Hebia have added their voices in a nationwide campaign from July 13 to 23 to press for the release of all political prisoners.

The two were jailed for two counts of murder and a frustrated murder, which Karapatan alleged as “fabricated.”

They said Aquino should listen to criticisms against his administration’s “dismal performance” by the Universal Periodic Review.

The review is a mechanism established by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations (UN) in prosecuting human rights abusers, Karapatan said.

The two invoked in the statement that the release of political prisoners should be akin to a “general, unconditional and omnibus amnesty proclamation.”

It is wrong to place “revolutionaries” in the same place with common criminals. What we seek is to ensure that the political status of our country be free from any foreign interference and domination,” the two inmates were quoted as saying in the statement released to the media on Wednesday.

Codaste, identified by Karapatan as a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), said they were branded as “enemies of the state” but were also hailed as “friends of the people.”

He added that they work for “people’s welfare, demand for equality, for justice, and freedom from domestic and foreign exploitation and oppression.”

Karapatan noted there are 363 political prisoners in the country, “many of them arbitrarily arrested.”

Ten of the detainees, including Codaste and Hebia, are in Northern Mindanao jails.

Codaste was arrested in December 2010 “despite being protected by JASIG as an NDF consultant.”

JASIG or Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, signed in 1995 by the government and the communist peace panels, guarantees immunity from arrest to NDF members, consultants and staff who are part of the negotiating team.

The NDF accused the government of violating the agreement, which was among those cited to have stalled the peace talks.

NDFP chair Luis Jalandoni underscored JASIG “as the key to the resumption of the peace talks.”

The government peace panel, in a statement in February, cited also the importance of the JASIG.

“But we assert more strongly that JASIG compliance requires verification without which the process lacks integrity,” the government panel said then. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)