Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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Rights lawyers dispute Malacañang: Political Prisoners exist in the Philippines

Press Release

“Three hundred sixty political prisoners still languish in Philippine jails contrary to Malacañang’s denial,” asserted   NUPL Secretary General Atty. Edre Olalia.

“It might be shocking for Malacanang to find out that there are still political prisoners, several of whom are  our clients,” Olalia sarcastically commented on behalf of the group of lawyers that handles several political prisoners, victims of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture and arbitrary arrests as well as peasant, worker and urban poor cases.

Olalia made the assertion in reaction to the recent statement issued by Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, who reportedly boldly claimed there were no more political prisoners in the Philippines.

The NUPL, established in September 2007 amid rising cases of extrajudicial killings and forcible abductions attributed to state forces, has over 400 members nationwide comprising lawyers, law students and paralegals . It has  discovered and known all along that the alleged acts of the prisoners they  are representing or helping are, even if hypothetically admitted, actually political in nature.

Olalia noted that only a minority of political detainees were charged with rebellion. At least 85 % of suspected political offenders are improperly charged with non-bailable ordinary crimes and not with rebellion. They were accused of committing murder, arson, illegal possession of firearms or explosives, physical injuries and other common crimes. “We have assessed that most of these are actually false or fabricated charges that further persecute these detainees, degrade their stature, mock the basic rules of evidence and is a travesty of justice. These, on top of the multifarious violations of their rights including torture and harassment.”

Recently,  NUPL lawyers had an audience with Justice Secretary Leila De Lima and Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III where they pointed out two dirty tricks that gave notoriety to the past Arroyo administration: Firstly, charging political prisoners with common crimes and, secondly, the improvident use of “John/Jane Does” in criminal informations filed in court. This odious practice continues until today.

Political activists are the usual victims of the improvident use of John/Jane Does. Whenever an information involving “John/Jane Does” is hastily filed in court, spurious witnesses belatedly spring up to identify activists and members of  political  organizations supposedly as the unknown suspects, by fabricating affidavits naming certain persons to be the John/Jane Does in the charge sheet.

“After the political activists are identified in bad faith as the John/Jane Does,  arrest warrants are issued and they are arrested without any preliminary investigation in violation of their right to due process,” Olalia added.

The NUPL, which just marked its 4th year anniversary last month, has joined growing calls  for a “ general, omnibus and unconditional amnesty for all political prisoners” as a matter of justice long overdue.

Aside from their meeting with the justice secretary, the NUPL visited the Batangas Provincial Jail to talk with seven political prisoners and coordinated with the local chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP-Batangas) to extend to them legal assistance in close collaboration with the NUPL. One of the political prisoners visited by the NUPL in Batangas was Maricon Montajes, a mass communication student of the University of the Philippines . She was charged with Illegal Possession of Explosives, Violation of the Fire Arm Ban under the Omnibus Election Code, and Illegal Possession of Fire Arms and Ammunition.

While some political detainees have already been freed, Secretary De Lima noted that the Justice Department is working to have more of them released in the near future through the Presidential Committee on Bail, Release, and Pardon (PCBREP). Secretary De Lima agreed with the legal position of NUPL and recognized its concerns,  telling them that a directive will be issued to the National Prosecution Service (NPS) to form a committee that will study these issues  and draft a department circular to address this problem. It was thus totally puzzling to the NUPL delegation that, unlike the military and Malacanang, the DOJ tacitly recognizes that there are political prisoners.

The existence of political prisoners in several parts of the country is an obvious matter of fact that Malacanang will be hard put to deny with a straight face like the dictator Marcos. #

Reference: Atty. Edre U. Olalia, NUPL Secretary General (09175113373)

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