Dear friends and colleagues,
Greetings of peace!
On 11 December 2013, Eduardo Sarmiento, a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in the peace process with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH), was sentenced to 20 to 40 years imprisonment by Judge Myra Bayot Quiambao of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 203, on the basis of a trumped up criminal charge of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Lawyers of Sarmiento are challenging the conviction, through a motion for reconsideration filed before the local court, and have also sought, for the second time, for the judge to inhibit herself from the case. These pleas are expected to be heard on Friday, 17 January 2014.
His arrest and detention is based on allegations of fabricated charges of arson, multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder filed against him in the courts of Samar, and of illegal possession of firearms and explosives in Muntinlupa. All the charges in Samar have been dismissed due to lack of evidence.
Sarmiento was serving as the NDFP consultant representing the Eastern Visayas Region in the peace negotiations with the GPH since 1986. Prior to the imposition of Martial Law, he was an active member of the KM (Kabataang Makabayan or Patriotic Youth) while studying at the University of Eastern Philippines in Northern Samar. He was imprisoned twice by the Martial Law regime because of his political beliefs. In his third year in college as an AB Political Science major, he decided to work full-time with the national democratic movement. Despite the perils of state repression that continued under the Corazon Aquino administration, when killings of activists and revolutionary leaders commenced, he represented the NDFP in various public fora and negotiations in Eastern Visayas as spokesperson, and representative of the NDFP in the local peace talks with the GPH. Sarmiento hails from Catarman, Northern Samar, a province located in the poorest region in the Philippines.
In February 2009, Sarmiento went to Metro Manila to participate in peace negotiations, when he was arrested by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP). Sarmiento was blindfolded, forced to go inside a van, and was taken to an undisclosed location for interrogation and torture for 24 hours before being taken to the Southern Police District Jail. It was only then when he knew of the charges against him. The arresting police officers claimed to have found a grenade in his bag, a claim being disputed by Sarmiento and his lawyer. The grenade, they allege, was planted evidence, as the police did not follow required chain of custody of evidence procedure, and did not document the grenade in the presence of Sarmiento or his counsel. Police testimonies during the court hearings indicate several irregularities regarding documentation of the supposed evidence. Sarmiento said that he was not carrying a grenade and that the first time that he saw the grenade was during his court trial.
Lawyers of Sarmiento are set to argue for the motion for reconsideration on his conviction on the basis that the court committed serious errors in its December 2013 judgement, particularly on insufficient proof of his guilt beyond reasonable doubt, several gross irregularities in the chain of custody of the evidence presented, and the highly questionable performance of duties of the arresting officers.
Sarmiento’s lawyers are also asking for the judge to voluntarily withdraw from the case. In 2009, the judge was a Senior State Solicitor at the Office of the Solicitor General, and she was part of “Task Force Rebellion,”a team of the GPH to review the cases of NDFP consultants in the peace process. Given her previous involvement on the part of the GPH, there are serious questions regarding her objectivity and impartiality to the case. Sarmiento’s lawyers are asking that the judge voluntarily withdraw from the case so that another judge can review the judgement.
Sarmiento is on his fifth year of detention in Camp Crame, where he continues to conduct education work among fellow prisoners on their rights to fair and humane treatment inside jail, on various issues being confronted by the Filipino people, including the latest developments on the issue of pork barrel and corrupt practices of government officials, as well as the incompetence of the Aquino administration on the relief and rehabilitation for typhoon victims in the region where he hailed from.
Sarmiento is also a cultural worker, who uses various art forms to express the views of the people’s movement on various issues. Since his elementary days, it has been his passion to draw, but it was only in prison where he first attempted to write poems and paint. Except for his regular contribution of poems drawings to LARAB (Flame), the underground revolutionary news magazine in Eastern Visayas, he has not pursued painting or other art work outside of prison, due to other work priorities in the movement. Before his current detention, his last painting was in 1975—in a Lapu-lapu, Cebu prison camp. Since his arrest in 2007, he has written poems, children’s stories, and song lyrics. He has also made several paintings, the latest batch of his paintings were exhibited together with fellow political prisoner Alan Jazmines’ work.
Karapatan views the case of Eduardo Sarmiento as a case that illustrates the injustices being suffered by all political prisoners in the country — rights violations which are being perpetuated by the Benigno S. Aquino administration through the counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan (Operational Plan Shoulder-to-Shoulder). At present, 449 political prisoners – 154 of them illegally arrested and detained under the current administration – remain imprisoned.
Aside from the injustices he suffered during his illegal arrest and detention, Sarmiento, as an NDFP consultant in the peace negotiations, is covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) signed on 24 February 1995 by the GPH and the NDFP. The JASIG provides that consultants and negotiators in the peace process are guaranteed free passage in the country and should have immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation due to their involvement or participation in the peace negotiations. Sarmiento was listed as a peace consultant in the 2001 JASIG list and should not have been arrested nor convicted under this agreement.
Sarmiento’s case is another clear indication that the Aquino administration is blocking all roads towards peace and is in fact exacerbating poverty, repression, plunder of the country’s resources, and violations on our sovereignty, and miserably failing to fully resolve the root causes of the armed conflict. It has failed to demonstrate good faith and sincerity in respecting and implementing agreements and commitments to the NDFP-GPH peace negotiations, including its commitment to release most, if not all, detained peace consultants. It has continued the malicious practice of prosecuting NDFP consultants in the peace negotiations on trumped up charges, and have denied justice for the peace consultants arrested, detained, killed, and disappeared during the past regime. Through Oplan Bayanihan, it has spawned killings and other human rights violations.
We appeal to our fellow human rights advocates all over the world to issue public statements and communicate with Philippine authorities to press for the immediate release of Sarmiento and all political prisoners. We enjoin you to demand that the Philippine government stop its repressive policy of filing trumped up charges against political activists and peace workers, and its counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan. We call on you to appeal for the resumption of the peace negotiations between the GPH and NDFP. Attached is a template letter for Philippine authorities, which can be used for communicating your support for this appeal, and a picture of Sarmiento. You can also view his artworks through the following links:
Thank you very much.
(Sgd) Cristina Palabay
Secretary General, Karapatan
Download template Letter of Appeal for authorities of the government of the Republic of the Philippines