Political prisoners, the face of continuing repression

“The charges are baseless but with the slow judicial system, the military has made it a point that we languish in jail for long.”


CAMP CRAME, Quezon City – Eduardo Serrano, 59, raised his fist as he approached his visitors from Karapatan and Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda), Sept. 12.

He wore a tubao (handkerchief) on his head, his long grey hair tied. Ka Eddick, as his friends call him, let out a wide grin and shook the hands of those who came. Behind him was Eduardo Sarmiento, 61, who also smiled at the sight of visitors. Shortly after, Renante Gamara joined the group.

The three political prisoners are consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). Although all of them have become activists during martial law years, they never knew each other until they were detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center at Camp Crame.

The three slammed the Aquino administration not only for their continuing incarceration but also for “implementing the same anti-people policies like those carried out by the Marcos dictatorship.”

Martial law years

Sarmiento, or Ka Edong to his colleagues, was arrested twice during martial law.

Ka Edong was a founding member of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) at the University of Eastern Philippines (UEP) in Northern Samar. He was in third year college when he decided to work full time for the movement and began organizing peasants in the countryside.

Ka Edong was first arrested in October 1972 and was released after eight months. He was again arrested in 1975 while he was in Cebu. He spent two years in jail.

Recalling the torture he went through, Ka Edong said: “They poked me with a 45 caliber gun. My legs were hit by bamboo until it swelled. My head was hit with a coconut husk.”

While in Cebu prison, Ka Edong almost got killed. One of the military guards shot him. “It was fortunate I managed to avoid the bullet,” he said. When the soldier attempted to fire his gun for the second time, the other guards were able to stop him.

After being released from prison, Ka Edong has continued his work in the countryside.

Like Ka Edong, Ka Eddick became an activist while he was a student at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). He was recruited to the KM in 1971.

Days before the imposition of martial law, Ka Edong went home in Naga, Camarines Sur because one of his sisters died. Sensing danger, his parents prevented him from going back to the UPLB. It was only during the second semester of 1973 that he was able to resume his organizing work inside the campus.

From 1983, Ka Eddick and his wife decided to organize peasants in Mindoro. It was there where he was arrested in 2004.

Meanwhile, Gamara began his political involvement in 1979 when he was elected board member of the union at General Motors.

Later, he became a full time organizer at Solid Mills.

Arrest and detention

The three were arrested in separate incidents while working as NDFP consultants for the peace talks with the Government of the Philippines (GPH).

Ka Edong and Ka Eddick were arrested during the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Ka Edong was arrested on February 23, 2009; Ka Eddick on May 2, 2004. Gamara was arrested on April 3 this year.

As NDFP consultants, they are supposedly protected by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig). Under Jasig, a bilateral agreement signed by the GPH (then the Government of the Philippines) and the NDFP, all participants to the peace talks are immune from arrest, surveillance, detention and any punitive action.
“When I showed them [arresting team] my document of identification, they told me it is not valid,” Gamara related. Under Jasig, bearers of documents of identification (DI) are covered by immunity guarantees.

“They told me we are fooling the government because the list we supplied contains assumed names,” Gamara said.

In a forum in Manila this month, Luis Jalandoni, chairman of the NDFP peace panel, said the use of assumed names is agreed upon by both parties and ensures the security of consultants and staff.

Gamara said the state agents confiscated his documents, telling him these would be turned over to the Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp).

The arrest of NDFP consultants under Aquino, Gamara said, “shows that President Benigno Aquino III is not at all serious in peace talks.”
Gamara is the third NDFP consultant to be arrested under the Aquino administration. Tirso Alcantara and Alan Jazmines were also arrested and detained. Fourteen NDFP consultants are now languishing in jails.

Same oppressive state

All three, despite being NDFP consultants, were slapped with criminal charges, mostly non-bailable offenses like murder and illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Under the Hernandez political doctrine, all political offenses must be subsumed into a single crime of rebellion.

“The charges are baseless but with the slow judicial system, the military has made it a point that we languish in jail for long,” Ka Eddick said.

Gamara noted that the Aquino administration’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan, like Marcos’s Oplan Katatagan, is guided by the United States counterinsurgency program.

“Aquino and the regimes that followed after Marcos, are only more sophisticated in repression,” Gamara said.

Ka Eddick said that the basic problems in Philippine society have not changed at all. “The country remains semi-colonial and semi-feudal. I see no reason to forget what I have learned during martial law years as a student activist,” he said.

Semi-colonial is the term used for a country that is not directly colonized but its policies on the economy, politics, military and culture affairs are dictated upon by a foreign power. Semi-feudal refers to forms of exploitation rooted in the problem of landlessness.

The three have started their fasting Sept. 14 to press anew for the release of all political prisoners all over the country. They will end their fasting on Sept. 21, the 40th anniversary of the imposition of martial law.

Even behind bars, their struggle for genuine change continues. (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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