Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

Bayan Metro Manila calls for the urgent release of political prisoners as a humane response to save lives and contain the spread of COVID-19.

The country’s jails are notorious for being congested which makes social and physical distancing difficult to implement.

The conditions in city jails have deteriorated over the years especially after the government intensified its ‘war on drugs’.

Many drug suspects and users, who are mostly from urban poor communities deprived of legal aid, are detained in overcrowded cells awaiting the disposition of their cases.

A virus outbreak in prisons could strain the resources of the government which is already scrambling to address the impact of COVID-19.

It is a health crisis waiting to explode if no immediate action is enforced.

There are specific proposals that the government can consider such as the mass release of prisoners who are elderly, sick, and pregnant; the early release of those who have almost served their prison sentences; and the release of political prisoners – also known as ‘prisoners of conscience’ or those who are incarcerated because of their political beliefs.

The United Nations has made a similar appeal to governments across the world. Some countries were even ahead of the UN in allowing the mass release of prisoners. Global human rights groups have appealed for the freedom of journalists and activists facing trumped up cases.

The Philippines have 602 political prisoners, 209 of them were arrested under the government of President Rodrigo Duterte. We call for their collective release not only because of the COVID-19 threat but also because of the unjust basis of their continuing detention.

We ask for the immediate release of Reina Nasino and Cora Agovida on humanitarian grounds. Both are currently detained at the female dorm of the Manila City Jail. Nasino is five months pregnant while Cora is a breastfeeding mother. Ina is a member of Kadamay Manila and Cora is the spokesperson of Gabriela Metro Manila – both are chapters of Bayan Metro Manila.

Cora and her husband, Michael Tan Bartolome, was arrested in front of their children on 31 October 2019 inside their home in Manila during a raid conducted by the CIDG. Michael is a Kadamay organizer. Both are facing illegal possession of firearms and expolosives charges, which are clearly based on fabricated evidence. Like many political prisoners, they were arrested for their activism. In the case of Cora and Michael, they were targeted because of their political organizing in Manila communities saturated by Tokhang operations. Cora was also active in opposing the reclamation of Manila Bay. In fact, she was planning a protest action with environmentalists a day before her arrest.

Ina and her two other companions – Alma Moran of Manila Workers Unity and Ram Carlo Bautista, campaign director of Bayan Manila – were arrested on 5 November during another early morning CIDG operation. Ina was a student activist before becoming an organizer of workers and urban poor communities in the Manila port area. Ina was arrested when the Bayan Manila office was raided by the police although her name is not included in the warrant of arrest presented by the arresting officer. During that time, Ina was not yet aware about her pregnancy.

The early release of Cora and Ina is not only just, it is humane. Cora has not seen her two children aged 10 and 2 after her arrest. After the cancellation of visiting privileges in response to COVID-19, Ina’s family and friends could not properly monitor her health and the status of her pregnancy.

Bayan Metro Manila also joins other peace advocates in calling for the release of National Democratic peace consultants. The declaration of unilateral ceasefire by the Duterte government and the NDF has revived the prospect of resuming the peace process. We ask both sides to continue the negotiation, fight COVID-19, and address the roots of the armed conflict and the poor state of the country’s healthcare system. Releasing political prisoners is an important step in building a peaceful future.

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