On Visits to Political Prisoners by Concerned Church Clergy and Leity

[Interview with an National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant and member of the NDFP Peace Panel’s Socio-Economic Reforms Committee, Alan Jazmines, who is presently a political detainee at the Special Intensive Care Area 1 (SICA 1) Jail, Camp Bagong Diwa.]

Q1: What would you say about the recent visits to you, political prisoners, by Church people?

A1: Various concerned Church people have been visiting us, political prisoners, and we very much appreciate and find very heart-warming and fruitful their visits to us and our exchanges with them.

The last three months, three groups of Church people came in succession to visit us, political prisoners, here at the SICA 1 Jail . (The SICA 1 Jail is the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology jail facility in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City, Metro Manila, maintained at the national level for the confinement of supposedly “high risk” detainees, mostly transferred from jail facilities in far-flung provinces. It is here where presently the biggest number of political prisoners in the country are confined.)

Last December 16, accompanied by Filipino officials, pastors, staffs and youth activists of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), a delegation of Catholic priests, school officials and students of St. Columba’s College (based in Melbourne, Australia) came to visit and immerse with us, political prisoners.

The delegation of Australians came to the country to engage in an immersion program among the deprived and oppressed sectors of Philippine society, including political prisoners.

Their visit and immersion program is part of their Church, school and teachers’ effort to widen and deepen the exposure of the students in the school to the situation and conditions of various grossly deprived and oppressed sectors of society, especially in more backward countries, where the people are suffering much more than those students have been seeing in their home country, Australia. Aside from immersing with us, political prisoners, they also immersed beforehand or were scheduled to immerse afterwards with other grossly deprived and oppressed sectors in our country, including the urban poor, workers, peasants, fishers, and indigenous peoples.

Last February 5, Bishop Jay Magness, Canon Peter Ng and Fr. Fred Vergara of the Episcopal Church, U.S.A., and Fr. Ramil Aguilar of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) Workers Assistance Program, came with elements of the IFI Workers Assistance Program, Defend Jobs, All Workers Unity, Kadamay (an organization of the urban poor) and IFI youth activists to also visit us, political prisoners at the SICA 1 Jail, to learn about our situation, and to see what they can do to help in our situation.

And more recently, last February 20, accompanied by their professor and staunch advocate of indigenous people’s rights, Fr. Edprim Gaza, 20 seminarians at the St. Vincentian Seminary came to visit us and to find out why and how we have become political prisoners, what our problems are and how they can help.

Q2: What have these political prisoners been when they were arrested and detained?

A2: Among the political prisoners in SICA 1 Jail are five of the 18 peace talks consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), who are presently detained in various jails in the country.

The NDFP peace consultants shared the problem of their having been surveilled, arrested, swamped with trumped-up charges, made to undergo one of the world’s slowest crawl of justice and suffer prolonged detention. All these in blatant disregard and gross violation of their long-standing protection — from such and other violent acts that would deter their effective work in the peace process — as supposedly guaranteed in the February 24, 1995 Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Phiippines (GRP/GPH).

The largest bulk of the other political prisoners here have come from the rural areas, mostly peasants and fighters for the rights and interests of the lowly peasants and other oppressed and exploited sectors of our society. There are also some workers and labor organizers, and some students, who, when arrested were immersed in organizing work among the masses.They were transferred here to the SICA 1 Jail as they are considered “high risk” detainees.

Q3: What problems of political prisoners, in particular, did you share with the visiting Church officials, staffers and students?

A3: In these visits, we, some 30 political prisoners — related to the NDFP — here at the SICA 1 Jail, shared with the visiting Church and school officials and students the many problems that we have undergone and continue to undergo: arbitrary and illegal arrests, torture and other acts of violence by arresting forces, trumped-up charges (some even under different names or even just under certain aliases), hardly moving crawl of justice (in many cases, not moving at all for years — some for more than a decade already — and also hardly being brought to court hearings in far away provinces where most of us have been transferred from), very poor and highly restrictive prison conditions (with our many rights and basic needs of prisoners being deprived of us).

The transfer of a big bulk of these political prisoners to a jail quite distant from where they came from or have been immersed in, has been creating many problems for them, the course of justice in their cases, and their relations: One is the perrenial problem of their very seldom or not at all being brought to hearings in distant courts, because jail authorities avoid the costs and purported “risks” involved. Another is the great difficulty of their being visited and assisted by their relations and supporters.

Aside from us, NDFP-related political prisoners, and separated from us here at the SICA 1 Jail, are some 50 officers and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who continue to remain under detention — no matter that the GRP/GPH and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had already completed their peace agreement and had only been waiting for legislative approval of the agreement reached — about half a dozen members of Suara Bangsamoro, Sulong- Katribo, and Bayan Muna, and about 150 other Moro detainees, who are mostly innocent civilian victims of successive GRP/GPH regime’s “all-out war” operations in their villages.

At the neighboring SICA 2 Jail are some 200 more Moro detainees — a number of whom are members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and most others also innocent civilians — arrested in the wake of the Zamboanga City seige by the MNLF in September 2013.

Q4. What messages were imparted by you, poilitical prisoners, to the visiting Church people?

A united message of the political prisoners to the visiting Church people was for them to join the calls for the release of all political prisoners in the country

The detained NDFP peace consultants among us also underlined that their organization and peace panel have constantly been asking the prevailing regime, as well as the past regimes, for the release not only of all NDFP peace consultants — who have been foully arrested and imprisoned, in violation of their long-standing protection, as supposedly guaranteed by the JASIG — but also of all other political prisoners (more than 500 of them at present), who also have been foully arrested and continue to suffer prolonged detention on the basis of trumped-up criminaized charges in violation of the 1956 Hernandez Doctrine, that de-criminalizes political opposition and dissent.

As against the repeated statements of the current GRP/GPH regime and its peace panel that the NDFP has been making as a precondition for the peace talks the release of all NDFP peace consultants and of all other political prisoners, the detained NDFP peace consultants pointed out that the immediate release of all NDFP peace consultants and of all other political prisoners is an obligation of the GRP/GPH, as the arrest and continued detention of NDFP peace consultants and other political prisoners have all been in violation of standing peace agreements and of law.

The detained NDFP peace consultants pointed out that the NDFP remains always open to peace talks whenever realistically possible, with whatever ruling regime of the GRP/GPH is interested enough in the pursuit of peace, and that the NDFP and supportive elements, including in the Church sector (such as the Pilgrims for Peace) have long been exhausting a lot of effort for the advance of the NDFP-GPH peace talks. Sadly, however, while they have been quite fruitful in the past, the said efforts have recently not been resulting in much progress.

To the visiting Church people and others, in the country and abroad, dedicated to the pursuit of respect for human rights, social justice, lasting peace and substantive progress in the country, the detained NDFP peace consultants and other political prisoners expressed their call for solidarity and support in the efforts towards these goals.