Political prisoners seek Pope Francis’ help in regaining freedom
DAVAO CITY, Philippines — “Dear Pope, I am just a revolutionary, I am not a criminal,” this was what former New People’s Army combatant, now political prisoner Zaldy Cañete wrote to Pope Francis from the Compostela Valley provincial jail.
“I was just concerned about my country’s problems, I hope you can help me gain my freedom back,” said Cañete.
Cañete’s letter, along with those of other political detainees all over the country, will be forwarded by the group Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda) to Archbishop Guiseppe Pinto, the papal nuncio to the Philippines.
Cañete, also known as Kumander Jinggoy, is currently facing 29 counts of crimes that included murder and arson. He was captured in Barangay (village) Sarmiento in Laak, Compostela Valley five years ago.
Fe Salino, Selda secretary general for Southern Mindanao, said political prisoners in the country have been usually charged with common crimes, when the offense they committed were political in nature.
“As a political detainee, I dream that my civil and political rights will be recognized, that’s why, I’m reaching out to you, Pope Francis,” wrote Cañete, whose entire letter was written in Cebuano. “I hope that with the depth of your understanding, you will help me gain back my freedom because that is something that I have longed for a long time now.”
Cañete is only one of the 500 political prisoners all over the country, who will fast during the Pope’s visit, according to Selda. They hoped to draw attention to their demands, which have often been ignored by the government: to free all political prisoners and to resume the stalled peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
For over 45 years, the Communist-led war has been raging in the countryside as the government has failed to sufficiently address issues of land reform and the continued dominance of foreign corporations in the economy, which perpetuated the age-old inequalities at the root cause of the armed conflict. Talks which would have addressed these socio-economic reform issues in the next agenda reached an impasse after the 2014 capture of top Communist leaders who the NDFP claimed were covered by security passes and immunity guarantees under the peace talks, but which the government claimed it could not verify.
The fasting is also addressed to the Philippine government, which they felt has abandoned all interest in resuming the stalled peace talks.
Sheena Duazo, secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Southern Mindanao, said peasant and workers’ groups led by Bayan — along with church workers – were also scheduled to travel from this city to the Compostela Valley prison on Thursday to join the fast in solidarity with political prisoners.
“We appreciate the concern of Pope Francis for the Philippines, his concern for the Filipinos, for the Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors, for the workers,” she said.
Bayan will also hold an anti-corruption rally on the Jan. 16th when the Pope is scheduled to meet with President Aquino and his Cabinet. The rally will culminate in a vigil and an interfaith gathering.
“It is in the spirit of justice and peace that we welcome the Pope,” said Leah Librado, Davao city councilor, “For our government to heed the appeals of our people, especially the poor. We join hands and cross our fingers that perhaps, the Pope will listen more attentively and intervene in our people’s concerns.”
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