From the Manila Standard Today (Jan 16): Rights groups rap news blackout on detainees
HUMAN rights advocates on Thursday protested the news blackout imposed on the conditions of the 491 political detainees who went on a five-day hunger strike to coincide with the papal visit to seek the intervention of the Pope for their freedom.
Jail officials barred the hunger strikers from seeing their relatives, lawyers, doctors and the media.
This prompted Bayan Muna lawmakers to denounce the “two-faced character” that the Aquino government has shown in welcoming Pope Francis and in the treatment of the political detainees, who began their fasting on the day the Pope arrived in the country.
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said it was ironic that the government was violating the human rights of the political detainees when the Pope came here precisely on a mission of mercy and compassion.
Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate condemned as “illegal, highhanded, callous and devious” the blackout imposed by jail officials at the Camp Bagong Diwa Rehabiltation Center.
“The cavalier acts of these jail officials are not only insensitive and highly irregular coming as it is at that time when we are awaiting the pastoral visit of Pope Francis, preventing the visitation of the political prisoners is also illegal,” Colmenares said.
“Republic Act 7438 clearly spells the right of the detainees, among others, to be visited by their relatives, doctor of choice and counsel. These jail officials must be investigated and held accountable,” said Colmenares, also House Senior Deputy Minority Leader.
“This is the height of hypocrisy being shown by the Aquino government, which makes it appear to the whole world that they warmly welcome the Pope at the same time that it treats the political detainees harshly and differently,” Palabay said.
At least 491 political prisoners in different jails all over the country have staged a hunger strike and are fasting to highlight their plight and the state of the country’s justice system during the visit of Pope Francis.
Andrea Rosal, a political detainee who was among those who wrote to Pope Francis and appealed for his intercession, was also deprived of visitation rights, Palabay said.
Rosal, whose daughter died two days after she was born in detention, introduced herself in her letter to the Pope as the daughter of the late Ka Roger Rosal, former spokesman of the communist New People’s Army.
“We, in Bayan Muna welcome the arrival of Pope Francis in the Philippines and we hope that he will intercede for the release of all political prisoners. We also hope that Pope Francis will support the peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front to address the root causes of the armed conflict and to attain social justice,” Colmenares said.
Zarate described the jail officials act as “pure harrassment.”
“Its only purpose is to hide from the attention of Pope Francis the sufferings and unjust conditions of the political prisoners under the Aquino administration and shows its two-faced character,” Zarate said.
On Thursday, Palabay said, Dr. Julie Caguiat, who was supposed to check on the conditions of the striking and fasting political prisoners, former Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza, Dr. Carol Araullo of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Sr. Cecilia Ruiz, Marie Hilao Enriquez and Palabay of human rights watchdog Karapatan and several paralegals, were barred from entering the Camp Bagong Diwa Rehabilitation Center.
They identified Jail Warden Michelle Ng Bonto as having demanded all sorts of clearances and made excuses “to unjustly deny” the group’s visit.
“Even an appeal made by lawyer Rey Cortez of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers was also ignored by the jail officials,” Palabay said.
“These jail officials acted like they are above or beyond the law,” Zarate said, echoing the call to investigate the jails officials led by the jail warden Bonto.
The jail officials refused to be interviewed.
Palabay said the doctors wanted to oversee the ongoing hunger strike since the jail officials refused to provide medical personnel to monitor their health.
Various cause-oriented groups in the country trooped to the streets and talked to media to air long-unresolved social problems in the hope that the Pope will intervene.
Baby Reyes, project officer of Rights Network who works with landless Yolanda victims in Leyte and Samar, urged Pope Francis to help victims realize their dreams “where there are no families left without homes and no peasant farmers without lands.”
“Yolanda survivors who are without land and housing security are praying for divine ontervention to fulfill their wish of land and housing security because government solution to these long-standing problems of the poor have become remote possibilities,” Reyes said.
Rights Network has documented that of 11,000 Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) due to agrarian reform beneficiaries in towns of Barugo, Alangalang, and other areas in Leyte, only hundreds have been awarded.
“We, farmers also in Ormoc city, still don’t have our lands for more than 10 years already despite being awarded with CLOAs. We still cannot go back to our farm,” farmer Rosenda Apay said in an interview.
Reyes also hit the government for its “continued negligence” toward Yolanda survivors, and for its lack of long-term shelter security.
Jessie Gariando, leader of Rights Eastern Visayas for farmers and fisherfolk, also asked the Pope to help them to gain access to programs and services of the government for its 1,800 members across Leyte, Tacloban and Ormoc Cities, and Eastern Samar.
Environmental advocacy group Panalipdan-SMR based in Davao City also appealed to Pope Francis for support on People’s Mining Bill.
Kim Gargar, spokesman of the group, said that “in the spirit of pro-people religious stand” they are urging Pope Francis to support the passing of House Bill 4315 or the People’s Mining Bill, which seeks to protect forest areas from further damage through mining.
“The Pope must see the impending ecological crises looming in Mindanao, the ongoing expansion of foreign owned plantations, which did not only displace farmers from their lands, but adversely affected the environment as well,” Gargar said.
Gargar said the ongoing expansion of these corporations greatly reduced the flora and fauna in those areas, making ecosystems unstable.
“Forests are cleared for planting of oil-palm, rubber, and bananas, to name a few cash crops. As a result, various animal species are deprived of their habitats, and essential plants are killed. When these things happen, it’s a biological crisis looming over the horizon,” Gargar said.
Gargar added that with the Pope visit, the voices of the poor farmers will be heard.
“We want the Pope to help us echo the need to bring back the lands to the farmers, so food security can be established, and the environment serves to nourish the people who in turn, take care of it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the women’s rights group Gabriela said the Pope could teach President Benigno Aquino III some lessons in compassion and mercy.
Gabriela secretary general Joms Salvador also acknowledged the Pope’s statements against violence towards women, especially wartime rape, as well as his condemnation of sexual abuse committed by priests.
“Most importantly, Pope Francis has affirmed the evils of the current global economic system, albeit tacitly, and condemned corporate greed that further push the poor deeper into hunger and poverty. He can definitely teach the Aquino government some lessons on mercy and compassion... because the Filipino people continue to suffer from the government’s neoliberal policies that are brutal and insensitive to the people’s conditions,” said Salvador.
Salvador said that their group hopes that the Pope will again make strong statements against corruption and impunity, issues that plague the Aquino government.
She also said the government was overacting in its security preparations.
“Pope Francis is known as the People’s Pope, not Pope of the Police. At the rate that the Aquino government is deploying police forces throughout the Pope’s routes, only the police could be near enough to see and interact with him,” she added.
Representing the unanimous sentiment of fourteen of the eighteen (18) surviving members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission out of original forty eight (48) issued a statement on the Bangsamoro that deals with the vision, spirit and core principles behind the provisions on autonomous regions which to our mind constitute the essential constitutionality of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
They said, Our Position on the importance of the Bangsamoro Autonomous region to the future our country is unprecedented both as an unfulfilled promise and as a model of equitable autonomy.
Their position also states: We fully support the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region;
We believe that a new organic law is necessary to fulfill the vision and spirit that
guided the constitutional provisions on autonomous regions since RA 6734 and
RA 9054 have clearly not gone far enough to give life to the concept of autonomy
for Muslim Mindanao as envisioned by the Constitution;
We were aware in 1986 that we were imperfect instruments of the sovereign will of our people But however imperfect our perceptions then or our fading memories today, recurring questions on the “constitutionality” of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) lead us to offer our insights.
Bangsamoro is about the development of people, not about the
constitutionality of words.
The core principle of the 1987 Constitution in mandating a special status for the
autonomous regions is the human development of the people of Muslim
Mindanao and the Cordilleras. Hence, the public conversation should not be
about semantics but about people – their needs, their aspirations, their choices and about empowering them with the environment and institutional framework
for social justice.
Social justice that calls for genuine social change is the central theme of the 1987
Constitution; and here, it is broader in scope and intent than in the 1973 and the
1935 Constitutions. An interpretation of any relevant provision of the
Constitution that results in war and abject poverty would be contrary to its
The people of the Cordilleras and of Muslim Mindanao do not want
war. They want human development and they want to be heard. And the
government needs to listen. This is mandated by a new provision in the 1987
Constitution on the right of the people and their organizations to effective and
reasonable participation at all levels of social, political, and economic decisionmaking.
The larger context of the CAB and BBL
Human development is a noble end in itself. But the larger context of the CAB
and the proposed BBL is our failure to effectively address the longest running
insurgency and the development of our peoples, especially those of Muslim
The full flowering of the genius of a people is human development.
And it needs a place of its own because it is a basic human right.
Both sovereignty and property are premised on exclusion. That leaves us
with a problem. How do we reconcile our needs and our borders?”
If all human beings are free and equal, then each person is entitled to
belong somewhere and to obtain the things they need to live and to be free.
If people cannot obtain what they need where they are, or if they have no
place where they are entitled to be, then our exclusion of them denies
The full flowering of Bangsamoro is assured if their leaders from a long line of
heroic resistance to colonization can believe that Bangsamoro, with meaningful
self-determination within the framework of the Republic, has a future and they
can help create that future.
Closing the gap between law and justice
International Law is not an iron law imposed by a supra-body above all nations
that disallows interpretations of words and language to fit the diverse situations
of individual nations.
We are not restricted from defining Bangsamoro as an integral and permanent
part of the Philippines, which is “sui generis” descriptive of the historical fact
that it is the “homeland” of Filipino citizens with institutions of governance that
conform with our Constitution. And our decision, rooted in its own history, can
become part of “international law” upon its approval in a plebiscite of those
affected by the creation of Bangsamoro, and by its acceptance by the community of nations.
Reason tells us that a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region can close the centuries old gap between law and justice and that we are on the cusp of a historic
opportunity to make it happen.
The negotiations on a Bangsamoro peace agreement have dragged on for 17
years. The Aquino government committed itself to bring the peace process to
fruition and has earned the trust of the Bangsamoro people that it will stay the
course. We must bring about that fruition, not because it is the will of one
man, but because it is the shared vision of a nation.
(Excerpts from a speech of Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio during the regional convention of Mindanao lawyers on November 20, 2007)
The efforts and sincerity of both panels are demonstrated by the broad
consultations that were conducted, by the explicit requirement in the BBL that
the new organic law should be in conformance with the Constitution, and the
unequivocal statement that the Bangsamoro territory shall remain part of the
Philippines. A new organic law is the second of a two-stage process mandated by
Article X, Section 18 and is the proper subject of the Supreme Court power of
judicial review. The CAB is equivalent to the first stage of that process
The price of peace
The story of how the Israel-Egypt Peace Agreement of 1978 despite its
acknowledged shortcomings, at least restored peace to their borders that lasts to
this day, exemplifies what ultimately counts in a peace agreement:
After 13 days of negotiations brokered by then President Jimmy Carter of the
United States, Israel Prime Minister Begin refused to sign the Agreement already
signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, primarily because it called for the
return of certain annexed territories to Egypt which he had said was nonnegotiable. Finally, the peace accord was signed between PM Begin and President Sadat.
This is peace-making without borders and self-limiting mental models.
But there is always a price to pay for any worthy vision. Sadat was assassinated by
disgruntled elements of the military in 1981 but not before he and Begin were
awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
What our people want
The decision on the Bangsamoro will ultimately rest on what the people want of
our country. And what the deliberations and the overwhelming vote in the
plebiscite for the Constitution tell us is that they dream of a free people in a
democratic society where peace and justice reign. It was clearly a vision.
Among the signatories are Fr. Joaquin Bernas, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., former Comelec Chief Christian Monsod, Bishop Teodoro Bacani, and Rene Sarmiento.