Open Letter to Pope Francis I
from Philippine Political Prisoners
(30 November 2014)
Your Holiness, Pope Francis,
Like many, many others among our people, we, political prisoners, look forward to your projected visit to our country in mid-January next year. We hope that, aside from your scheduled visit to personally look at the extent of damage and sufferings wrought upon millions of victims in that part of our country most devastated by the Supertyphoon Yolanda (“Haiyan”, by its international name) in early November last year, and to render help through expressing sympathy, giving inspiration to and boosting the spirits of the victims, you would be able to also visit us and examine our cruelly and unjustly repressed situation as prisoners of conscience, and also see what can be done to effectively help in qualitatively alleviating our situation.
We, victims of political imprisonment, have been enthused to write such to you, as other victims, families and supporters of victims of natural and man-made disasters have also been writing you and asking for your attention and help, especially in regard to their calls for justice and respect of human rights. Among those who have done so, and have thus encouraged us to write to you and also ask your attention and help, have been the victims and families and supporters of victims of the Supertyphoon Yolanda, the families and supporters of the Desaparecidos (victims of fascist involuntary disappearances, since the Martial Law years up to the present), and the families and supporters of the Ampatuan massacre.
Given the very short duration and already previously fixed itinerary of your visit to our country, we ask for, at least, your office’s serious look into and investigation of 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 one of 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 became very much concerned about in your home country, Argentina.
We ask this, as the concern and positive actions by the Vatican in two previous papal visits in the country — one during and another one after the martial law years — significantly helped in feretting out the truth about the existence and dire situation of poltical prisoners, and in quite effectively supporting the fight for freedom, justice and human rights of a great many of the country’s political prisoners then.
Way before Pope John Paul II made a visit to the Philippines in 1981, the fascist dictatorship of the Marcos martial law regime had already viciously tried to hide the existence of political prisoners in Camp Bagong Diwa — where bulk of them were then confined in Metro Manila — by transferring all of them to a secluded part of the National Penitentiary. The political prisoners, who were hidden in a nook of the National Penitentiary, wrote to Pope John Paul II a letter sharing with him about their existence and situation, and asking him to visit them and to take a look at their situation. As an expression of protest at their situation, they also engaged in fasting during the visit.
The Vatican, thus, learned about and at once raised directly with the Marcos government the issue in regard to the existence and situation of political prisoners in the Philipines. The Vatican had wanted to apply then 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 Marcos martial law regime, however, kept hiding the truth and maintaining its total denial about the existence then of political prisoners in the country. Pope John Paul II was, thus, prevented from personally meeting with them and seeing their situation during his visit to the country. But when the Vatican learned about the malicious transfer of political prisoners to the National Penitentiary just to hide them from the Pope, it sent the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, to personally visit the political prisoners there and investigate their situation. The Papacy then expressed concern to the Marcos government and also to the world media about the existence and situation of political prisoners in the country. This helped a lot in the push for the mass release, very soon after, of political prisoners.
When in 1995, Pope John Paul II made a second visit to the Philippines, a new batch (of post-martial law) political prisoners in the country again wrote him a letter about their situation and, to further highlight their plight and demand for their release, went on hunger strike. Peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP/GPH) were then progressing, and the release of all political prisoners was one of the principal demands of the NDFP in the peace talks. In the face of all these, the ruling GRP/GPH regime (which was then headed by President Fidel Ramos) was thus pushed to grant the mass release then of political prisoners.
Even as the present ruling regime of Benigno S. Aquino III now keeps on mouthing the very same line that the fascist dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos also kept on deviously mouthing during the martial law days — that there is not a single political prisoner existing in the country — you will definitely find out in your visit or through a serious investigation by your office, that, on the contrary, there have long been and indeed continue to be a great many of us, political prisoners, in the country — some 500 of us, about half of whom have been arrested and detained by the present ruling regime. Among the political prisoners at present in the country are more than 40 women, six minors and about 100 sickly/elderlies at present. Not yet included among these are more women, minors and sickly/elderlies and other innocent local community folk arrested with some Moro National Liberation Front fighters in the aftermath of the latter’s stand-off last year in a section of Zamboanga City.
In Metro Manila, in particular, there are presently several scores of us, political prisoners, who have been confined in Camp Bagong Diwa, in Camp Crame, and in the National Penitentiary.
Via an actual visit of your holiness or a deep investigation by your office, you will find out how very much repressive, restrictive and deprived are our situations as political prisoners, and how the ruling reactionary state and jail authorities institute systems and do what they can to prevent or even just stifle us from continuing to effectively fight for people’s causes and for fundamental social changes in the interest of qualitative betterment in the lives and conditions of the mass of the people — most especially the oppressed, deprived and impoverished — and towards the attainment of true and lasting peace in the country.
You will also find out that arbitrary arrests, torture, political detention, swamping with trumped-up criminalized charges, and other acts of fascist state violence and repression, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances against political/social cause-oriented activists and freedom fighters, and also against peace talks participants and consultants, as well as against many, many innocent struggling people in our country, constitute and further keep exacerbating gross violations of the people’s freedom, justice and human rights, as well as of long-standing peace agreements in our country. These have practically been no different from what you have seen and have been pained about in your home country, Argentina.
Together with human rights and other social cause-oriented forces, peace process advocates and various concerned religious organizations, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and its peace panel have been pressing for the rectification of these, including at the very least the release of all political prisoners, as well as the still-detained NDFP peace talks participants and consultants, and the ruling state’s accounting of the victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances among NDFP peace talks participants and consultants and among political prisoners.
The help of your office in taking these up with the GRP/GPH would be of much help to the peace process.
In this regard, we appreciate, too, that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leadership, that has also long been engaged in peace talks with the GRP/GPH, has also written your holiness to help in beefing up the peace process ongoing in the country, and in particular that between them and the GRP/GPH. In relation to this, it should be noted that, among political prisoners who have been long been confined in Camp Bagong Diwa, are about 50 MILF officers and forces. And there are many more of them in other jails in the south. This, ironically despite the advances supposedly already gained in their peace talks with the GRP/GPH.
We hope that your visit, at the very least, will see the actual dire situation, touch the relevant issues, help in examining the roots of such gross fascist sins against the people and against prospects for peace, and in beefing up efforts to alleviate the situation, including our situation as political prisoners, who are among those made to continue suffering under such prevailing rule and system.
We hope that your intercession in our situation may be of great help.
Fervently hoping for your valued support,
Political Prisoners (in Metro Manila jails)
in Camp Crame
Joel E. Enano
Rex G. Villaflor
in Camp Bagong Diwa
Jesus Abetria Jr.
Hermogenes Reyes Jr.
Ma. Miradel Torres
in New Bilibid Prison
Gerardo dela Peña
cf: Archbishop Guiseppe Pinto, Papal Nuncio to the Philippines
Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform
Office of the President of the Philippines
National Democratic Front of the Philippines Peace Panel