Give political prisoners and peace talks a break!

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

With perseverance and assertiveness, political prisoners in various detention centers begin today a week-long fasting-hunger strike, culminating on December 10, International Human Rights Day. Their demand: Free all political prisoners!

Joining the coordinated protest action are prisoners held at the National Penitentiary and those detained at Camp Bagong Diwa (Bicutan, Taguig City), Camp Crame, and at provincial and city jails in Cebu, Calbayog, Tagum, Batangas, Laguna, and Rizal.

As of October 31, there were 356 political prisoners nationwide. Most of them, including 73 Moros from Basilan, were arrested during the Arroyo government; 77, under P-Noy’s watch.

Why perseverance? Why asser-tiveness?

Perseverance, because this is the third protest action the detainees have launched in five months. They have been calling on President Aquino to respond positively to their appeal for freedom and justice.

The first was in July, a week before P-Noy’s state-of-the-nation address; the second was on September 13-21, timed with the 39th anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos’s imposition of martial law that unjustly imprisoned more than 70,000 citizens.

Assertiveness, because the political prisoners claim they have been unjustly treated by the post-martial law governments. Thus, they demand fair treatment and redress.

Most of them were arrested for pursuing their political beliefs, and tagged either as leaders or members of the CPP-NPA/NDFP. But they have not been charged with rebellion. Instead, they have been slapped with trumped-up charges as common criminals, such as murder, kidnapping, arson, robbery, and the like. A number of them (at the National Penitentiary) have already been convicted of such charges.

The political prisoners have a strong, valid legal point. It would be unjust for the Aquino government not to take a deep look into it.

The jurisprudence called “political offense doctrine,” laid down in 1956 by the Supreme Court in the landmark Amado V. Hernandez case, requires that the charge be rebellion, “plain and simple.” The Tribunal has repeatedly reaffirmed this doctrine in eight subsequent cases, including one in 1990 which involved former defense secretary, now Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

In the Hernandez case (as an alleged CPP leader, Ka Amado was charged with rebellion, multiple murder, arson, and robbery), the Supreme Court ruled:

“One of the means by which rebellion may be committed, in the words of Article 135, is by ‘engaging in war against the forces of government,’ and ‘committing serious violence’ in the prosecution of said ‘war’. These expressions imply that war connotes, namely: resort to arms, requisition of property and services, collection of taxes and contributions, restraint of liberty, damage to property, physical injuries and loss of life, and the hunger, illness and unhappiness that war leaves in its wake xxx. Being within the purview of ‘engaging in war’ and ‘committing serious violence’, said resort to arms, with the resulting impairment or destruction of life and property, constitutes not two or more offenses, but only one crime – that of rebellion plain and simple.”

Further, the Supreme Court emphasized:

“Thus, national, as well as international, laws and jurisprudence overwhelmingly favor the proposition that common crimes, perpetrated in furtherance of a political offense, are divested of their character as ‘common’ offenses and assume the complexion of the main crime of which they are mere ingredients, and, consequently, cannot be punished separately from the principal offense, or complexed with the same, to justify the imposition of a graver penalty.”

In the Enrile rebellion case, the SC amplified that “all crimes, whether punishable under a special law or general law, which are mere components or ingredients, or committed in furtherance thereof, become absorbed in the crime of rebellion and can not be isolated and charged as separate crimes in themselves.”

Clearly, alleged members of the CPP-NPA/NDFP, or the MILF, who are arrested as such cannot be charged, prosecuted, convicted and penalized with any other offense other than rebellion.

Unfortunately, all the post-martial law governments since President Cory Aquino have violated this doctrine by resorting to filing common criminal charges, mostly capital offenses (with the intent to deny the accused of the right to bail), against such persons taken into state custody.

I identify with the plight of the 356 political prisoners now protesting, because I have been a victim of this violation of the Hernandez doctrine, first under the Cory government, then under Gloria’s.

Through perseverance and asser-tiveness, plus the diligent work of our pro-bono lawyers, my co-accused and I were acquitted of the false charges. Just one more case of “multiple murder” awaits the ruling of the Supreme Court, which heard en banc in 2007 the oral arguments on my petition for its dismissal.

The Aquino government’s positive action on this issue will go a long way toward rectifying the waylaying of justice in how the state agents have handled the cases of political prisoners over the past 24 years.

Positive action can also lead to the continuation of the GPH-NDFP peace talks, which have stalled since June after an auspicious resumption in February. The non-release of political prisoners previously agreed upon, including 17 NDFP consultants and other JASIG-protected persons, has largely caused the impasse.

P-Noy, give the political prisoner — and the peace talks — a break!

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December 03, 2011

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