Open Letter to Pope Francis I

Open letter to Pope Francis I
from political prisoners in Camp Bagong Diwa
(10 January 2015)
Your Holiness, Pope Francis,
Warm embraces!
Together with millions of the Filipino people, we, political prisoners, extend our warmest welcome to your five-day visit to our country, starting this coming January 15 up to January 19.
Your principal scheduled visit to that part of our country most devastated by the Supertyphoon Yolanda (“Haiyan”, by its international name) in November 2013, will indeed render much help, through expressing sympathy with, giving inspiration to and boosting the spirits of the millions of the victims there, not only of the recent natural disaster, but also of their continuing and further sufferings brought about, and that continue to be brought about, by gross government incompetence and corruption.
We also expect that in your visit to our country, you will find out a great deal about the more widespread sufferings of the greater mass of the oppressed, violated, deprived and impoverished people in our country, not much different from what you actually also saw in your own country, Argentina, and have been deeply concerned about.
We, political prisoners, are among those being made to suffer terribly in this country, in the same way that you actually also saw and have also been deeply concerned about in your own country, Argentina.
We are particularly being made to suffer reactionary state oppression by their jailing us, in order to separate us from the people and prevent us from immersing with the suffering mass of the people in our country, taking up with them their deep-seated socio-economic, political-cultural problems under the present rotten ruling system in our country, and being one with them in airing their problems and seeking substantive solutions to fundamentally resolve such deep-seated problems in our society and to work for a really free, just and more prosperous society.
We have been arbitrarily, unjustly and illegally imprisoned, heavily restricted and gravely repressed behind iron bars, just because we have been what you have been asking to come out boldly and in numbers from the people, its various sectors and your flock: as “street fighters for change” — as social cause activists against poverty, against corruption, against oppression, against human rignts violations, and against other basic ills in present society.
The ruling regimes — way back from the outrighly fascist Marcos martial law regime, up to the present — have consistently been trying to hide the fact of the existence of political prisoners in the country.
This, not only by outrightly and repeatedly denying that there actually are political prisoners, keeping us in jails among nonpolitical prisoners, and treating us without essential difference from them.
This, also by denying the application to us of the Hernandez Doctrine — a landmark 1956 jurisprudence that prohibits the arresting, jailing and charging with trumped-up criminalized charges of those whose conflict with the ruling state is based on “rebellion” or even just political opposition. Thus, we, political prisoners, have been arrested and swamped with multiple trumped-up criminalized charges just to keep us in jail, as much as possible indefinitely and separated from those in whose interests we are “street fighters for change”.
There are presently some 500 political prisoners in the country, whose cases have been individuallly documented. There are some 300 more whose cases still have to be individually documented.
Even if the visit of Your Holiness to our country would only be for a few days, we still hope that you would still be able to deepen factual and comprehensive knowledge about our actual oppressed existence and dire situation as political prisoners — subjected to arbitrary and illegal arrests; deprived of freedom, justice, political and human rights; swamped with trumped-up criminalized charges; made to undergo the most rotten and slowest crawl of justice in the world; and cruelly left to rot and suffer gross repressions, restrictions and deprivations for years, and even up to more than a decade already, in various jails throughout the country — not much different from what you have pathetically seen and have been very much concerned about in your home country, Argentina.
We, victims of political imprisonment in our country hope that Your Holiness may be able to help in pressing for the return of the lost freedom and other rights of political prisoners, and thus fully correcting such grave social and political ills that have long been pestering in our country, and have continued after outright martial law was replaced by a mere fascade of “democracy”.
We hope for the return of our lost freedom and other rights, as the the last two previous papal visits (by Pope John Paul II) in the country — in 1981 (during the height of the Marcos martial law years) and in 1995 (about 10 years after the fall of the Marcos martial law regime) — significantly helped in revealing the existence and dire situation of political prisoners then (despite malicious efforts to hide them), and in effecting the release of a great many of them. The political prisoners wrote to Pope John Paul II, and even had to engage in fasting and hunger strike, in order to call attention to their very existence, their concealed whereabouts and their dire situation.
Even if Pope John Paul II was not able to make a personal visit to the hidden political prisoners in 1981, and instead could only sent his representive (the then Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli) to look for them and visit them, still the Vatican was determined to and was able to actually apply in practice, in the case of the political prisoners, a verse from Matthew 25:36 (“I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.”).
The Papacy’s direct expression of concern to the Marcos government and also to the world media about the existence and dire situation of political prisoners in the country significantly helped a lot. Very soon after, political prisoners in the country were released in large numbers.
In 1995, during Pope John Paul II’s second visit to the country, a new batch of post-martial law political prisoners again wrote a letter to the Pope about their situation and plea for their release, and also went on hunger strike.
The letter to Pope John Paul II and the protest action by the new batch of political prisoners were supported by the ongoing preparations then for peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP/GPH). The release of all political prisoners was and continues to be one of the principal demands of the NDFP in the peace talks. In the face of all these, the mass release of political prisoners was immediately granted by the GRP, then under President Fidel Ramos.
Even as the present ruling regime of Benigno S. Aquino III has since been denying the existence at present of political prisoners in the country, this collective letter of ours, more collective letters by other political prisoners in other jails, and thousands more of individual letters by political prisoners, our loved ones, human rights advocates and our other supporters, all attest to our existence and dire plight as political prisoners, and are strongly and urgently pressing for the release of all political prisoners.
Aside from this letter to ask your Holiness to look into our situation and to support our particular pleas and struggles as political prisoners, we are also addressing our pleas and struggles to those pushing for the resumption of the peace talks between the NDFP and the GRP/GPH, with the hope that the resumption of the peace talks will oblige the GRP/GPH to release from prison, not only the still-detained NDFP peace consultants, but also all other political prisoners in the country.
In this regard, we take note of the fact that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), that has also long been engaged in peace talks with the GRP/GPH, has also asked your Holiness to help beef up the peace processes ongoing in the country, and in particular that between them and the GRP/GPH. In relation to this, it should be noted that, ironically despite the advances supposedly already gained in their peace talks with the GRP/GPH, some 50 MILF officers and forces have long remained under detention here in Camp Bagong Diwa and many more in other jails in the south.
We also take positive note of your Holiness’ significant positive role in helping bridge the already more-than-half-a-century emnity between the U.S.A. and Cuba, and initially the positive result of such in effecting the two countries’ recent mutual release of prisoners, whose long detention was caused by the long-standing emnity between the two countries.
Aside from these letters and other efforts, we are also putting the whole of ourselves in our plea for return of our freedom, application of justice and respect for human rights, that have been and continue to be deprived from us. Starting from today, January 10, up to your scheduled departure on January 19, we, political prisoners in Camp Bagong Diwa, will be going on fasting and hunger strike. While some of us will be going on hunger strike all the way from January 10 to 19, most of us will initially be going on fast from sunup to sundown from January 10 to 14 and total hunger strike from January 15 to 19. Other political prisoners in other jails, our loved ones, human rights advocates and our other supporters of cause will also be waging similar fasting, hunger strike and other sympathy protest actions at the same time.
While these protest actions of ours are centered on our demand for the return of the lost freedom, redress of injustices and respect of human rights denied us by the state’s powers that be, we are also protesting against the too many inhuman restrictions and violations of our rights (including violations of our rights to proper and healthy food rations and daily open air exercise, and harassments through too many abusive “search” operations) being committed against us by the jail authorities.
As we will not be getting our food rations for 10 days, we are asking the jail authorities to donate, in our behalf, the jail authorities’ savings in our food rations to the victims of disasters brought about by Supertyphoon Yolanda last year and Typhoon Senyang this year. We estimate such savings to amount to at least P10,000. We ask that the donation of such savings be coursed through the International Committee of the Red Cross.
We hope that, with your efforts and intercession and the efforts, too, of many others, our sacrifices will bear positive results, including the return of the lost freedom, redress of injustices and respect of human rights of political prisoners.
Fervently hoping for your valued support,
Political Prisoners in Camp Bagong Diwa
Tirso Alcantara
Emeterio Antalan
Leopoldo Caloza
Alan Jazmines
Loida Magpatoc
Jesus Abetria Jr.
Modesto Araza
Alex Arias
Gemma Carag
Eddie Cruz
Philip Enteria
Marissa Espedido
Voltaire Guray
Fidel Holanda
Edward Lanzanas
Pastora Latagan
Rolando Laylo
Evelyn Legaspi
Eliseo Lopez
Alberto Macasinag
Jared Morales
Denis Ortiz
Rhea Pareja
Miguela Piñero
Hermogenes Reyes Jr.
Andrea Rosal
Felicardo Salamat
Aristides Sarmiento
Antonio Satumba
Ma. Miradel Torres
Cirilo Verdan
cf: Archbishop Guiseppe Pinto, Papal Nuncio to the Philippines
   Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform
   Office of the President of the Philippines
   International Committee of the Red Cross
   National Democratic Front of the Philippines Peace Panel