Political inmates want visitation rights back

Kristine Felisse Mangunay | Inquirer

Five of the 37 political prisoners who staged a hunger strike during Pope Francis’ recent visit to the country have gone to court to stop what they said was the ongoing violation of their human rights by the jail warden.

In separate manifestations with urgent motions filed in the Taguig Regional Trial Court where they are facing criminal charges, Tirso Alcantara and the group of Alan Jazmines, Rolando Laylo, Edward Lanzanas and Alex Arias asked Branches 271 and 266, respectively, to “require warden Michelle Ng Bonto to refrain” from violating their rights, particularly their “basic right to be visited by [their] family or relatives, counsel and chosen doctor.”

The filing of the cases on Jan. 28 through human rights group Karapatan was prompted by Bonto’s continued refusal to let them receive visitors at the Special Intensive Care Area (Sica) 1 in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City, where they are detained in spite of Republic Act No. 7438, they said.

According to RA No. 7438, “any person arrested or detained or under custodial investigation shall be allowed visits by or conferences with any member of his immediate family or any medical doctor or priest,” the petitioners added.

They said that Bonto violated their rights on Jan. 13, 14 and 15 when she refused entry to several individuals, including Dr. Julie Caguiat; Bernard Zamora, a Karapatan paralegal staffer; Julian Oliva Jr. of the National Union of People’s Lawyers who is their counsel; Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Chair Carol Araullo; and former Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza.

These visitors, they added, went to Sica 1 to “look into the reported deteriorating physical condition” of several of the 37 inmates who went on a hunger strike starting on Jan. 10.

The mass action was aimed at drawing the Pope’s attention to their plight. Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said the hunger strike ended on Jan. 19, the day Pope Francis left the country.

“Hence, [we] respectfully [ask] the honorable court to immediately order [Bonto] to explain the reported violations of [our] rights and those of [our] fellow political prisoners and to desist from committing further violations of [our] rights,” they said.

“She must be reminded of the rights of detained persons and to accord herein [to us] and [our] fellow political prisoners full respect… at all times,” they added.

All the political prisoners, including the five petitioners, told the court that they were “consultants” in the peace process between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

They said that the cases filed against them in different courts by the government, which has accused them of being members of the Communist Party of the Philippines, were based on “false and trumped-up charges.”

Earlier, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) defended its actions, saying that its visitation policy —which requires visitors to present a clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation and papers from the Securities and Exchange Commission proving the legitimacy of their organizations—allowed jail officials to determine if the visitors were reputable.

Determining the legitimacy of visitors was based on the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners adopted by the 1955 First UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in Geneva, Switzerland, it added.

Insp. Aris Villaester, BJMP National Capital Region spokesperson, also said that the visitation policy was for the inmates’ own security, adding that they were just “trying to prevent [anything bad] from happening to them.”

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