Decongest Jails, Dump False Charges: Free All Political Prisoners Now!

ANAKBAYAN-Canada, a comprehensive youth and student organization fighting for national democracy in the Philippines, joins other human rights organizations and the families of political prisoners in the Philippines in calling for the release of all political prisoners immediately. We are deeply concerned about the health and safety of these political prisoners amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Global Online Campaign to Free Filipino Political Prisoners was launched March 31st calling for the release of all political prisoners from regular detention centres, jails, national penitentiary, military camps and stockades in the Philippines in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Among the political prisoners, the priority are the sick and the elderly, the nursing and pregnant women, those who are due for pardon and parole, the accidental victims of political arrests and at least one spouse each of political prisoner couples and demand their immediate release as the confirmed cases of Coronavirus-19 (COVD-19) and deaths continue to rise. The congested detention facilities, lack of clean water and medical facilities make self-isolation or quarantine impossible. These are fertile grounds for COVID-19 outbreaks. We call for their immediate release, not just for their health and safety,but also because it is the humanitarian and right thing to do.

We join KARAPATAN, the national human rights alliance in the Philippines and KAPATID, the organization of families and friends of political prisoners, in demanding the release of all Filipino political prisoners. This call is made particularly stronger and urgent after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet urged governments to protect the health and safety of people in detention. Political prisoners worry not only about the risk of infection from COVID-19, but they also have to deal with the trumped-up and fabricated charges against them, the political persecution and criminalization of dissent, the daily violations of their rights inside the prisons and the continuing harassment of their families. 

KARAPATAN reports that there are 604 political prisoners in the Philippines[…]

KARAPATAN reports that there are 604 political prisoners in the Philippines, of which 100 are women, 47 are elderly and 63 are suffering from serious ailments. NDF Consultant Francisco Fernandez, who suffers from heart complications, was brought to Camp Bonifacio by ambulance after he was arrested, interrogated and put under hospital arrest. Rey Casambre suffers from hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. Rowena and Oliver Rosales, arrested in 2018, are detained separately in different jails and their children are forced to fend on their own. Reina Nacino, of urban poor group Kadamay, was arrested in 2019 and is five months pregnant. Ge-ann Perez, 20-year old, suffers from leprosy and faces a great danger more so now. Gerardo de la Pena is 80 years old and imprisoned at the National Penitentiary where there is 349% congestion rate. Vic Ladlad has a history of pneumonia and has been refused medical treatment for his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. There are so many more political prisoners detained all across the Philippines.

As Filipino migrant youth, we recognize the role of the youth and students who continue to fight for the toiling and exploited masses and condemn the state retaliating with increased state repression. We demand the release of all political prisoners and highlight Myles Albasin who reestablished Anakbayan UP Cebu and was detained for living amongst farmers in order to understand how to better advocate for the poor and marginalized. Myles and five others were arrested on March 3, 2018 in Negros Oriental as part of the Duterte administration’s crackdown on activists.

Medicalization, not Militarization

Instead of ensuring the health and safety of its citizens during this pandemic, the Duterte administration has weaponized the measures of quarantine and lockdowns to suppress the people’s dissent and activism. Instead of conducting mass testing and providing relief to its citizens, the Duterte government and the military continue to arrest ordinary people, those who are without transportation and housing, supplies and necessities during the lockdown.

Between March 17th to 29th, the police have arrested 17,309 people; compared to only 3,303 Filipinos who have received mass testing for COVID-19 as of March 30th. Just recently on March 29, the military arrested public school teacher Juliet Espinosa and her son for criticizing the Duterte government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis resulting in the starvation of her community.

Between The Growing Health Risk

Philippine prisons are one of the most congested in the world, with 450% congestion rates.  

Prisons have a high rate of congestion and overpopulation, often placing and transferring inmates and criminalized persons beyond the facility’s capacity. Outbreaks have been known to happen in the past, to the point that it would no longer be manageable and controllable. Philippine prisons are one of the most congested in the world, with 450% congestion rates.  

The World Health Organization has urged states to enforce social distancing to minimize the spread of COVID-19 among peoples. But the nature and mismanagement of prisons make social distancing impossible and much-needed sanitization supplies, such as soap and hand sanitizer, are scarce or widely banned. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep the world, countries are freeing prisoners to slow the spread of the COVID-19 inside the prisons.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep the world, countries are freeing prisoners to slow the spread of COVID-19 inside the prisons. Iran has freed 85,000 prisoners. Libya has released its first 450 prisoners with more to follow. Afghanistan started with hundreds of prisoners to limit the outbreaks of COVID-19 and is expected to release 10,000 older prisoners soon. Ethiopia has freed 4000 prisoners. Poland sent home prisoners to serve out the rest of their sentence and is expected to release 12,000 more. And even in the United States, New York City, New Jersey and Chicago have released 1075 inmates from prisons with more to follow as COVID-19 starts to infect the jails. 

The Philippine government, the military and the courts can do no less. Decongest jails. Dump False Charges. Free all Political Prisoners now! 

Let us bring home the political prisoners to their families, their children, friends and communities now!


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