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    2016: Aquino’s final chance for action on killings and political prisoners

    Earlier this week Auckland Philippines Solidarity sent the following letter to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

    Sadly political prisoner Eduardo Serrano died yesterday at 8:10am Philippine time, while receiving treatment following a heart attack. The tragic death of Mr Serrano, after being aquitted by several courts of trumped up charges, simply reiterates the need for the Philippine government to free all political prisoners.

    The Aquino Administration risks being remembered as a failure on the issues of human rights, peace and development unless action is taken to end Lumad killings and free political prisoners.

    In recent months the horrific murder of Lumads by state backed paramilitary groups in Mindanao has received international condemnation.   Last September 1st the Magahat-Bagani Group, a state backed paramilitary group, murdered Emerito Samarca, director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development; Dionel Campos, a leader of a Lumad organisation and his cousin Datu Juvillo Sinzo.

    The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) uses brutal groups like the Magahat-Bagani as part of their counter-insurgency programme.  Aquino should use his final months in power to ensure state backed paramilitaries, including Magahat-Bagani, are finally disbanded and no longer given state support.

    Furthermore, we call on President Aquino to grant amnesty to political prisoners languishing on trumped up charges in jails around the country.  Of particular concern is the case of Eduardo Serrano, a consultant to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.  Mr Serrano has been detained in Camp Crame since 2004, on multiple charges of murder, frustrated murder and kidnapping.  Recently the Quezon City Regional Trial Court ordered his immediate release noting he was originally arrested on a warrant intended for the arrest of another man wanted on those charges.

    Sadly Serrano is yet to be released.  He faces outstanding trumped up charges filed in other regional trial courts.  On December 16th he suffered a heart attack while in custody.  For the sake of both justice and his health Mr Serrano should be released.

    During his Administration, human rights advocates from Australia and New Zealand have continuously appealed to President Aquino for the release of political prisoners and an end to extrajudicial killings.   Now in his final months in office there is still time for action on these important issues.

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