So Much Remains to be Seen for Peace
Today, February 14, 2013, is the second anniversary of “Black Valentine”—when two years ago the present ruling government’s armed forces, with the explicit go-signal of higher-ups, treacherously stabbed in the back the peace process between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH).
Just a couple of hours before the resumption of the long stalled formal peace talks between the NDF and GPH, an official peace consultant of the NDF and member of its socio-economic reform committee, and who had been coordinating closely with the NDF leadership and comrades involved in the peace talks abroad, was surreptitiously suddenly arrested by combined forces of the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police.
The arrest was made in utter disregard of the peace process, in arrogant violation of standing peace agreements between the NDF and GPH, and even in blatant violation of the GPH’s own laws. Among the NDF-GPH peace agreements violated were the Joint Agreement of Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) for the protection of peace consultants and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) for the protection of the people’s human rights.
Waste-basketing the JASIG , which is supposed to guarantee the security of peace consultants from surveillance, arrest, detention and other antagonistic acts, in arrogant spite at the peace process, and without even a warrant of arrest, GPH armed forces forcibly barged into a house I was temporarily staying and working in and arrested me in the early evening (Manila time) of February 14. The arresting forces were very much in a hurry to make the arrest and it was then early in the morning of February 14 in Oslo, Norway and the arrested had to be made before the peace process between the NDF and GPH were to take place there shortly, so as not to cause a walk-out by the NDF peace panel and a bigger blame placed on the GPH for the break-up of the peace talks, had the arrest been made after the peace talks had started.
I firmly protested the treachery behind the arrest, insisting that I am an NDF peace consultant, a participant in the peace process to commence shortly, and one protected by JASIG. I also demanded my right to be able to immediately talk with my legal counsel in the Public Interest Law (PILC), which also sits in the NDF peace panel as legal consultant in the peace process. All this was accordingly relayed by the head of the arresting forces to his higher-ups.
After two hours, however, the head of the arresting forces came back to inform me that their higher ups insisted on pushing through with the arrest, no matter the JASIG and the peace talks. I was just told that all that I have raised with them will be relayed to the office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. The chief then of the Philippine Army, Gen. Arnulfo Ortiz, who was also then in direct command of the arrest operation, even issued an arrogant statement that they will continue to arrest NDF peace consultants—no matter the JASIG.
The NDF peace strongly objected to the arrest as well as the continued detention of some dozen other NDF peace consultants; demanded the immediate release of the arrested and detained NDF peace consultants so that the formal peace talks can still continue; demanded, too, the release of then already more than 350 other political prisoners in the country; and pressed for the rectification of all other violations by the GPH of the peace process and of standing peace agreements. The GPH peace panel then promised its best to work out the release of the arrested and detained NDF peace consultants to make way for the continuation and progress of the formal peace talks.
But, except for a couple of detained NDF peace consultants who were released as a result of individual court victories – – and not because of decisive action by the GPH – – all of more than a dozen other NDF peace consultants continue to be behind bars and their rights continue to be violated.
One of those who have suffered the most brutalities and human rights violations upon arrested and under detention is Tirso Alcantara. As soon as he was arrested, with his hands tied at the back, his ankles bound, and forced to kneel down, he was shot at close range at the arms with the bullet exiting close to the crotch. He was then placed inside a freezer for about three hours until taken to the hospital for operation. At Fort Bonifacio where he was detained for almost two years, he was made to suffer daily more atrocities, like depriving him of access to sunning and exercise, to newspaper, radio and writing materials. Most of the time, visitors were discourage if not totally prevented from seeing him, as only one of a maximum of three immediate relatives were allowed to visit him at a time, and most others such as human rights workers, priests and pastors promoting peace and even NDF peace panel members were prevented from seeing him. It takes days before his military jailors would turn over to him food stuffs brought to him by his visitors and many times many items were not even turned over to him. This, even as most of the time he had to totally depend on the food stuffs brought to him by his visitors, as suspicious items like glass shards, matchsticks, lumps of ants, animal feces, dizziness,-causing chemicals and other health-endangering matter were often mixed with food rations given to him, and he thus had to avoid the food rations.
Another NDF peace consultant, Ramon Patriarca, who was abducted and heavily tortured by Philippine Army forces, became a deseparecido for four days until his military abductors were obliged to surface him when his family filed and won a writ of amparo case against his military abductors. He was then transferred from Camp Lapu-lapu to the Davao City Jail in Cebu Province, when very soon after he, in tandem with another political prisoner, led some 200 other inmates at the Davao City Jail in struggles for their rights, including the raising to P80/inmate/day (or 60% higher than the amount budgeted nationally) the daily food ration per inmate, the inmate’s organized monitoring of the quality and quantity of their food rations as well as to ensure that the P480,000.00 monthly budget for 200 inmates was well spent, the regulation of access to areas for adequate sunning and exercise, the setting up of alternative learning programs, and others.
Many attempts to isolate, repress or replace him in the leadership among inmates , suppress their struggles and reverse their victories at the Davao City Jail were defeated one after another, until in Jun.25, 2012, after being brought to a court hearing on the torture case he filed against two generals, two colonels and 24 other personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police, he was not returned to his cell at the Davao City Jail, but instead was surreptitiously brought to a bartolina (isolated cell) at the Cebu Provincial Jail without a court order, and a few days later was transferred back to the camp of his abductors and torturers where he was first brought to and initially hidden way back in early February 2009. Jail and provincial authorities were then able to reverse the victories in the struggles led by Patiarca.
There is close similarity in my case as jail and police authorities in Camp Crame where I was detained much of the time since my arrest, have several times made reprisal moves against our efforts at the PNP Custodial Center to expose and seek redress of the grave injustices and human rights violations committed against NDF peace consultants and other political prisoners there, especially in regard to unjust, arbitrary and illegal arrest, prosecution, detent ion and undue restrictions committed against them.
Jail and police authorities made a series of moves to force my transfer to another detention center where they were hoping I could be more effectively repressed. This, in reprisal against moves by political prisoners in Camp Crame to expose and fight the atrocities committed by authorities there. These include the barging into cells of detainees and harassing them in the middle of the night, making moves to molest non-political female detainees by bringing them out of their cells in the middle of the night to join drinking and gambling session in barracks and offices of jail and police authorities; colluding with arresting and other military, police and intelligence units to produce additional cases to continue keeping in jail political detainees whose cases have been dismissed in the court and who have thus been ordered by the courts to be set free.
The exposes and complaints that have caused the biggest juror, triggered automatic denial by Malacanang and sparked the final, determined move to have me transferred – – “no matter what” – – from the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame to where I can hopefully be more effectively repressed and silenced was the documentation, study and expose of foreign, ie. US, intrusion into the cases of political prisoners there. Such included the putting up of U.S. FBI room right inside the detention area, the constant interest and repeated interrogation of political prisoners – – particularly Moro/Muslim political prisoners – – by the U.S. FBI and other U.S. intelligence agencies in the said U.S. FBI room, as well as in atleast one secret condominium in the vicinity that is being used by U.S. intelligence agencies. Or as most happened – – if the U.S intelligence agents have difficulties with the non-cooperation of the objects of their interest – – in the office of the chief of the custodial center itself.
Such also included the cases of U.S. rendition victims, in particular the cases of three Indonesians, who were forcibly abducted abroad at the instigation of the U.S FBI with the puppet compliance of the PNP Intelligence Group, smuggled into the Philippines with the use of fictitious identities imposed on them, detained and charged with trumped-up cases as Filipinos and kept in jail for about eight years now. Two of them have recently been transferred here at the Security Intensive Care Area (SICA) of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig City.
I found out very soon after my transfer here at the SICA ON July 2, that in many aspects the problems of political prisoners here are even much worse than those at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame.
For one, the number of political prisoners here is much, much bigger – – more than 200, or more than 10 times the number in Camp Crame when I was still there.
The cases of political prisoners here are even more glaring mockeries of justice, human rights and even simple sensitivity – – to the point of utter absurdity and ridiculousness. More gross – – and many times more mind-boggling – – are the cases here of unjust, arbitrary and illegal arrest, prosecution, detention and violations of the rights of political prisoners.
Majority of the more than 200 political prisoners here are innocent civilians; most of them arrested in their respective communities or places of work; charged, detained and treated as “terrorists”, mostly on the basis of intentional “mistaken identities” – – just to give body to fake bounty claims financed in the millions of U.S. Dollars in the form of “anti-terrorist aid”.
Most recent of such cases of arrest, detention and filing of trumped-up charges based on intentional “mistaken identity” has been that of a full time 48 years old security guard named Rolly Panesa, who was arrested at the close of midnight of October 5, together with his wife and two to her members of their family, subjected to heavy torture and two days later was brought for detention at the SICA under the name of entirely different person – – 61 year old Benjamin Mendoza, who is suspected by the government to be the top CPP, NDF and NPA leader in the Southern Tagalog Region. Were he the true Benjamin Mendoza, he should also not have been arrested, tortured and brought into detention, as the real Benjamin Mendoza is an NDF peace consultant representing the Southern Tagalog Region, and as such is supposedly protected from surveillance, arrest, detention and other antagonistic acts.
Most absurd are the cases here of several pairs of intentional “mistaken identity” victims with the same assigned names, arrested, detained, charged and presented before the court handcuffed to one another. In the case. For instance, of Jirin Hatimon of Jolo, Sulo and Abdulhan Ussih of Cotabato City, both were arrested, detained, charged and keep on being brought to court together as “Black Tungkang”.
Many political prisoners here were arrested and detained as minors, elderly and/or sick, and yet have remained for years and continue to remain behind bars. Among these are four minors from Basilan (Muner Tanfic, 14 years old when arrested; Abubakar Bimbas, 14 years old when arrested; Galo Omar, 16 years old when arrested; Palili Jammang, 17 years old when arrested) whom the NDF had demanded in the NDF-GPH peace talks (from March 30 to April 2, 2004 in Oslo, Norway), that they be released.
It was formally agreed upon by both panels in an April 3,2004 joint statement that the four would be released together with 28 other minors, women, elderly and sick political prisoners. Yet up to now, they have remained imprisoned here at SICA.
There are eight others who were arrested and detained as minors, including six more Moro youth (Muner Kusair, Ahmad Totong Macrohon, Ikram Amiruddin, Arman Amiruddin, Divino Buenbrazo and Ibrahim Misuari) who have behind bars for many years now, and two peasant youth from Quezon (Grego Guevarra and Reynaldo Delos Santos) who have been arrested just a few months ago.
There are even more here at SICA who are elderly and sickly. Especially among the elderly and sick who have been overly long confined, the very cramped space limited movement, poor food rations and lack of medical facilities have been contributing much to the fast deterioration of the health of inmates here. In fact, many of these have already suffered heart attacks, hypertensive strokes, arthritic paralysis and other severe ailments, and a big number of them have already died here.
One of the elderly sick innocent civilians arrested in Sipatan, Basilan way back in 2005 and detained for about 8 years now is Estong Ilinol. He suffered his last hypertensive stroke two years ago, and has not recovered since then. In fact, his health has deteriorated more and more. He has to be fed, bathed and helped by his cellmates to do toilet functions. Government and jail authorities have done nothing at all to bring him in a hospital for proper care and to save his life, much less to return to him his freedom unjustly, arbitrarily and illegally snatched from him and long-detained him. Overly prolonging and making more difficult the situation of political prisoners and their fight for freedom, justice and human rights here – – as in other jails in the country – – is the exceedingly rotten and snail-paced process of justice, one of the most rotten and slowest in the world. In many, many cases, there has been no movement at all for several years, in some cases, for close to or even more than a decade now.
The problems range from the typical laggard courts, the overly-delayed replacement of existing judges, the very sparse scheduling of hearings, the highly inefficient subpoena delivery system, the very stingy time allocated per case in overly loaded incompetent as well as lazy courts. All these, plus the numerous problems of the jail management in bringing political prisoners to appear in courts.
There is also the problem of the puppet reactionary military/police as well as political establishment’s effort to influence and manipulate the courts. Aside from these are the perennial problems of criminalizing cases against political prisoners with the imposition of trumped-up charges in continuous violation of the Hernandez Doctrine.
The incalcitrance of the GPH and its puppet reactionary military/police in keeping NDF peace consultants and other political prisoners behind bars and bringing in as many more of these as possible is quite evident in the former’s playing blind to peace agreements and deaf to demands for the freedom of NDF peace consultants and other political prisoners for the sake of prospects for advance in the peace process and in fundamental political, socio-economic and other reforms.
Instead of the GPH rectifying its violation of peace agreements and doing its part to release treacherously arrested and detained NDF peace consultants, it has all the more been arresting others in the field. Renante Gamara, NDF consultant representing Metro Manila, was arrested in early April last year and was even brutally treated. He was carrying a JASIC protection document, but this was not at all respected by the arresting forces and was even confiscated from him, together with other valuable possessions he had with him including the car he was riding in. A little earlier , Jaime Soledad another NDF peace consultant representing Leyte Province was rearrested not long after his release by virtue of the withdrawal of the trumped-up charges against him. But another trumped-up case was produced to justify his re-arrest.
With the objective of arresting and “neutralizing” even more NDF peace consultants, the GPH, through its Department of National Defense and its Department of Interior and Local Governments, came out with an offer of nearly P500 million as bounty for another NDF peace consultants still at large without any regard at all that the new splurge of bounty offers constitute a big, arrogant slap at the peace process.
Some whiff of hope still emanated from a meeting between special representative of the NDF and of the GPH last December 17-18 in the Hague, where there was an agreement to carry on discussions on common declaration of national unity and just peace; further upholding rights; working towards attaining national unity, peace and development, agrarian reform rural development and national industrialization; and aiming for truce.
But, in the meeting, the special representative of the NDF posited that NDF peace consultants and other political prisoners must be released in order to improve the climate and facilitate progress for the peace talks. The NDF special representatives warned that the failure of the GPH to investigate and came out with resolutions on the disappearances and killings of NDF peace consultants, and to effect the release of detained NDF peace consultants and other political prisoners in accordance with the JASIG, CARHRIHL and other peace agreements.
The results of the meeting provide just a slither of light in an otherwise almost totally black night. So much still remains to be seen for peace.
NDF peace consultant
Detained at BJMP-SICA
Camp Bagong Diwa
Feb. 14, 2013