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MANILA, Philippines — Human rights lawyers plan to sue officials of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology who have denied access to doctors and counsel of political prisoners staging a hunger strike to demand their freedom and mark the visit to the country of Pope Francis.
“For contumaciously denying access to doctors our clients trust, we will file criminal, civil and administrative charges in all fora, including complaints in foreign bodies, against ruthless BJMP officials and guards,” Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, said.
“Let it be clear. We hold them responsible if anything happens to political prisoners who are on hunger strike and now weak and ill,” he added.
Olalia singled out Jail Superintendent Michelle Ng Bonto, warden of the Special Intensive Care Area 1 detention facility in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City “and her vassal guards” who, he said, “are heartless in denying access of doctors to see ailing and weak political prisoners on hunger strike.”
The human rights group Karapatan said jail officials twice barred, on January 13 and 14, Dr. Julie Caguiat from visiting SICA-1 prisoners, who entered eighth day of their fast Friday.
As of this posting, Karapatan said, an NUPL lawyer and a doctor from the Center for Health and Development “are still negotiating for their entry.”
Nimfa Lanzanas, whose son Edward, is among the hunger strikers, said she feared for his condition.
“I have been worried since the time jail authorities prevented the prisoners’ doctor to check-up on them. Di na ako mapalagay. Syempre, nanay ako. Pero naiintindihan ko kung bakit kailangan nila itong gawin, (I have been restless. Of course, I am a mother. But I understand why they have to go on hunger strike),” she said.
Karapatan said the Camp Bagong Diwa detainees began their hunger strike on January 10.
By Thursday, January 15, the day the Pope arrived in the country, “almost all of the 491 political prisoners in 50 jails nationwide started theirs.”
Karapatan also accused Bonto of denying the SICA-1 detainees request to donate savings from their food rations during the hunger strike to victims of typhoons Yolanda and Seniang, which the human rights group estimated could reach at least P10,000.
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said they are hoping Pope Francis finds time to visit the political prisoners and see their plight.