By Max Lane
Renato Constantino Jr, president of the progressive federation of mass organisations Sanlakas and convener of the Asia Pacific Coalition on East Timor (APCET), has appealed to the pro-democracy movement internationally to support a call for the freeing of all Filipino political prisoners.
Constantino explains, "Behind the democratic veneer, there remain today 291 Filipino political prisoners who continue to languish in 57 jails all over the Philippines. The Ramos government as well as the Aquino administration before it have remained indifferent to their plight and deaf to their petitions. They have just now embarked on a hunger strike to the death in an attempt not only to get our government's attention but more so to belie the old and tired claim of both Aquino and Ramos that there are no political prisoners in the Philippines."
In a letter, eight prisoners held in the maximum security compound of the new Bilibis Prison in Manila described the treatment they have received. "Most of us political prisoners have been severely tortured by our military captors ... [who] aimed to force us to admit involvement in the underground revolutionary movement, and other nationalist organisations. Beaten to a pulp and almost dying after nights of torture in military safehouses, we were then brought to a military camps and there were charged with criminal offences."
The eight — Juanito Itaas, Antonio C. Liongson, Jaime Serdan, Victoriano Malingin, Gilberto Tano, Augusto Montanez, Guillermo Jaque and Leonilo Jalmadron — explained that 98% of political prisoners are now charged with criminal offences.
The prisoners also point out how hollow President Ramos' calls for peace and reconciliation are, while so many political prisoners remain in jail. Ramos has failed to realise that the release of political prisoners "could be a constructive and positive part of the confidence building measures in preparation for the proposed peace talks between the government of the Republic of the Philippines and all the rebel groups in our country".
They went to explain that Ramos has instead escalated militarisation in the countryside. Of the 23,800 human rights violations documented by the country's major human rights organisations, the biggest group of victims were farmers in the countryside.
The eight prisoners began a hunger strike on January 3. Messages of support can be sent to: Juanito Itaas and friends, c/- Renato Constantino Jr, 38-A Panay Avenue, Quezon City, Philippines.