NDFP consultants, families of detainees to join hunger strike

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Dec 02 2016 06:09 PM | Updated as of Dec 02 2016 11:40 PM

A mock gravestone for political detainee Bernabe Ocasla, who died of cardiac arrest Nov 28.

MANILA - It took three hours for Manila City jail officials to bring the vomiting Bernabe Ocasla to Jose Reyes Memorial Hospital despite his appeals for help. By the time doctors ministered to the 66-year-old political detainee, he was comatose.

For the next three days, his daughter, Choan, prayed to take the place of the detained farmer from Samar. She railed as guards used handcuffs on the unconscious man.

On Saturday, Choan, her family, and kin and supporters of more than 400 political detainees will join a hunger strike protest to seek the release of the prisoners. 

They are also demanding a halt to the continuing arrests of activists in the provinces and stepped up militarization of indigenous communities.

Fifteen released consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are joining the hunger strike or fast, depending on their health status. 

Catholic and other Christian groups will show their support Sunday with several masses and mini shows featuring nationalist Christmas carols, according to Christina Palabay, secretary-general of Karapatan. 

Detainees across the country will opt to join either the fasting or the full hunger strike, subject to their doctors' advice, she said.

At the same time, she warned jail and detention center officials not to prevent supporters, including medical teams, to monitor the state of the detainees' health.

APPEAL TO DUTERTE

NDFP peace consultant Rey Casambre said freedom for the detainees is not just an issue of justice. 

"It is an issue of life and death," he said during the campaign launch, citing more than 33 senior citizens among 130 ill prisoners. 

Half of the sick detainees have been diagnosed with life-threatening diseases, according to the human rights group Karapatan.

Ocasla's daughter appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte.

"Please don't let them die in jail," Choan said. She wept while remembering her father's great hopes for the resolution of peace talks that languished for three decades since the ouster of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

"Give them the gift of freedom," she said in an interview with ABS-CBN News after the launch.

"I don't want other families to suffer like us."

Choan's father died of cardiac arrest on November 28. He had been detained in Manila City jail for a year, after seven years in a Leyte province prison.

Gloria Almonte said she would use the occasion to also push for more humane conditions in jails.

She said it took a month after her detained husband, Dionisio, spat up blood to get permission for a full medical check-up. Doctors found him to be suffering from tuberculosis.

Casambre reminded Duterte of his promise to "walk an extra mile for peace" when he last talked with the NDFP and its consultants.

The NDFP is also seeking the release of three consultants covered by safety and immunity guarantees, which were largely ignored by previous administrations but who have been convicted by the courts. Two had withdrawn their appeals after being given a commitment of release by the government, Casambre said.

'CHANGE' 

Casambre said the NDFP has not made the release of political prisoners a precondition for the joint ceasefire proposed by the government.

But he stressed that future milestones, including a joint ceasefire, would hinge on whether the government fulfills its commitment to affirm previous agreements.

One involves the grant of safety and immunity guarantees to NDFP negotiators, staff and consultants. The other agreement calls for adherence to human rights and international humanitarian agreements and a halt to the use of legal offensives against militants.

The rash of non-bailable cases against even legal activists spiked after international condemnation forced former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's administration to step back from a policy of targeting militants for assassination.

That's when they took to filing trumped up charges, often for several non-bailable offenses, said Casambre.

The bulk of political prisoners were arrested during former President Benigno Aquino III's six-year term.

Among those arrested were leaders of indigenous peoples struggling to keep their lands free of mining and plantation concessions. 

Teachers of Lumad children have also been arrested in a bid to crush their morale.

Casambre said the Aquino administration used the law to harass legitimate dissent, citing human trafficking and illegal detention cases slapped on legislators, nuns and rights workers helping besieged Lumad.

While Duterte re-started peace talks with Asia's longest-running communist insurgent, his administration now accounts for 15 new political prisoners, including an official of the network of Lumad alternative schools in northern Mindanao region.

The government's failure to release political detainees and the continuing arrests and killings of activists despite the resumption of peace talks are a sore point in negotiations.

The hunger strike comes as government peace negotiators express optimism for the signing of an interim ceasefire between the Duterte administration and the DFP.