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Political detainees seeking Pope’s help for release see visitation rights restricted

... NUPL threatens to sue; BJMP requires official requests for ‘medical missions’
By: - Reporter / @jgamilINQ
/ 03:18 PM January 16, 2015

MANILA, Philippines – Human rights group Karapatan has accused the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) of trying to “mute the voices” of political detainees on hunger strike during Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines.

Karapatan alleged that since Tuesday, the BJMP warden for the Special Intensive Care Area 1 (SICA1) in Camp Bagong Diwa has been barring visitors of the activists detained in the facility. These visitors include a doctor, Dr. Julie Caguiat, and known activist leaders such as former Gabriela representative Liza Maza, Bayan chair Carol Araullo and Karapatan chair Marie Hilao-Enriquez.

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The BJMP, however, insisted that since the visitors claimed they were on a “medical mission,” they must therefore seek clearance from the BJMP’s main headquarters first.

The political detainees in SICA1 include Alan Jazmines, Tirso Alcantara, and Leopoldo Caloza, accused of being communist rebels but identified by Karapatan as consultants to the peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

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Karapatan estimates that around 500 political detainees in 43 jails nationwide are taking part in the hunger strike to dramatize calls for Pope Francis to intercede for their release. Of this number, 32 are in BJMP-run facilities in Camp Bagong Diwa, of which 22 are in SICA1.

Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said that on Tuesday and Wednesday, the SICA jail warden, Supt. Michelle Ng Bonto, refused the visitors.

This was the first time in recent history that a doctor was denied entry at the facility, with Caguiat even being a regular visitor, Palabay noted. A regular checkup is especially crucial now that the detainees are on a hunger strike, according to Palabay.

Palabay expressed suspicion the sudden refusal to let visitors in has been related to the hunger strike. On Sunday, a letter from the 32 political detainees in Camp Bagong Diwa, addressed to Pope Francis, made its way to the media through Karapatan.

“The BJMP is deliberately violating the rights of the political prisoners and muting their voices so they won’t be heard by the public and Pope Francis,” complained Palabay.

Sought for comment, the BJMP spokesperson, Insp. Aris Villaester, denied that the refusal of visitors had anything to do with the hunger strike.

“The [visitors] said they wanted to conduct a medical mission, but you can’t just hold activities like that especially in a high-risk facility like SICA1. It’s always been our policy that if you will conduct a medical mission, you have to file a request with [the BJMP main office] first, then we can inform the warden to arrange their accommodation,” Villaester said.

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Villaester added that the BJMP had an on-call doctor stationed at Camp Bagong Diwa for emergencies.

“We need physicians like them to help our inmates, but under proper procedures. So far, we still have not received a formal request for a medical mission,” Villaester noted.

Regarding non-medical visitors, Villaester forwarded to the Philippine Daily Inquirer a letter the BJMP sent to Karapatan in December, explaining why some of the detainees’ visiting friends were also not allowed entry in an earlier incident.

“These friends of inmates who wished to be allowed visits are not personally known to the BJMP officers and personnel, thus … it is hard if not impossible for the BJMP management to determine whether these people are of good reputation,” the BJMP letter read.

National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) secretary-general Edre Olalia, on Friday, threatened to file criminal, civil and administrative complaints against the BJMP for denying entry to “doctors our clients trust.”

The detainees, in their three-page letter to Pope Francis, noted that on two previous occasions, the intercession of his predecessor, the late Pope John Paul II, led to the release of political prisoners in the Philippines.

In 1981, “the Papacy’s direct expression of concern to the Marcos government and also to the world media about the existence and dire situation of political prisoners in the country significantly helped a lot. Very soon after, political prisoners in the country were released in large numbers.”

“In 1995, during Pope John Paul II’s second visit to the country, a new batch of post-martial law political prisoners again wrote a letter to the Pope about their situation and plea for the release, and also went on a hunger strike … The mass release of political prisoners was immediately granted by [the government] under President Fidel Ramos,” the detainees noted.

The detainees claimed they “have been arbitrarily, unjustly and illegally imprisoned, heavily restricted and gravely repressed behind iron bars, just because we have been what you [Pope Francis] have been asking to come out boldly and in numbers from the people, its various sectors, and your flock: ‘Street fighters for change.'”

“We hope that, with your efforts and intercession, and the efforts, too, of many others, our sacrifices will bear positive results, including the return of lost freedom, redress of injustices, and respect of human rights,” the detainees asked Pope Francis.

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TAGS: Alan Jazmines, appeal for release, Aris Villaester, Armed conflict, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Camp Bagong Diwa, Carol Araullo, Communist Party of the Philippines, communist rebellion, Edre Olalia, Gabriela partylist, Hunger Strike, Insurgency, Julie Caguiat, Karapatan, Leopoldo Caloza, Liza Maza, Marie Hilao-Enriquez, National Democratic Front of the Philippines, National Union of People's Lawyers, New People's Army, News, NUPL, papal visit, pastoral visit, political detainees, political prisoners, Pope Francis, rebellion, SICA1, Special Intensive Care Area 1, Tirso Alcantara
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