Political prisoners set hunger strike | Inquirer News
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Political prisoners set hunger strike

/ 05:38 AM December 03, 2016

“Papa’s dream to be free has been fulfilled. His handcuffs are gone, but he’s now in a coffin.”

This was the tearful lament on Friday of Choan Ocasla, daughter of peasant leader Bernabe Ocasla, who died in prison before President Duterte could keep his promise to release him and other political prisoners.

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To press for their freedom, political prisoners in detention facilities around the country will go on a hunger strike starting on Saturday. In sympathy, consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and human rights advocates said they also would stage a hunger strike at Mendiola for eight days.

The NDFP said in a statement that the government has been missing its own deadlines to release political prisoners since the President pledged in May to free them through a general amnesty.

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Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the human rights group Karapatan, said the hunger strike will culminate in a rally to protest “continuing fascism by the State and (to) hold President Duterte accountable for violations of human rights” on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.

She said 296 of about 400 political prisoners were arrested during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III and 15 under Duterte’s government. She said 130 of the detainees are sick, many with life-threatening illnesses.

Palabay said the government has released only 19 NDFP consultants involved in the peace talks with the government.

NDFP consultant Rey Casambre said the release of political prisoners is “not a precondition” for the peace negotiations to continue, but it shows compliance to implement agreements.

“Why would you enter into discussion with a government that doesn’t keep its end of the bargain?” he said.

He said the case of Ocasla makes the release of political detainees not just “a matter of justice, but also a matter of life and death.”

Ocasla’s daughter said her family received assurances that her ailing father would be freed in time for Christmas.

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The 66-year old peasant leader died at Jose Reyes Memorial Center on Nov. 28 days after a massive stroke.

“I hope what happened to Papa would not happen to the other political detainees. I wish the other families would not experience the pain we endured,” Choan said, weeping.

In Davao City, the head of the government peace panel, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, expressed sympathy for Ocasla’s family and said more political prisoners would be released in the coming days.

“There will be a release of a substantial number of political prisoners based on humanitarian grounds particularly the women, sickly and senior citizens in the coming days,” Bello said. “The more than 400 political prisoners will be released in due time.”

Adding another bit of good news, Bello said in a statement that the President has granted pardon to four political prisoners who have served 18 to 26 years for kidnapping and murder.

The four communist rebels—Martin Villanueva, Bonifacio Suyon, Dindo Absalon and Rico Bodina—were expected to be freed anytime soon, said Bello.—WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA AND ALLAN NAWAL

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TAGS: Bernabe Ocasla, Choan Ocasla, Cristina Palabay, Hunger Strike, Karapatan, National Democratic Front of the Philippines, NDFP, political prisoners
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