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Elections and political prisoners: They do mix

Voting is about making choices, but what happens when candidates are not electable simply because they are unqualified and ineligible for public office under the law?

Welcome to the wonderworld of Philippine politics where convicted criminals and their whole thieving family get away with being elected into high office while human rights defenders, trade unionists, and long-time activists are imprisoned because laws are bent in favor of the rich and mighty but weaponized to persecute and prosecute those who genuinely serve the people.

On Nov. 2, Kapatid, our support group of families and friends of political prisoners, joined a petition by human rights organizations to cancel or deny the certificate of candidacy of presidential contender Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. for multiple false material representation in violation of the Omnibus Election Code.

The issue is plain and simple: Did the namesake of the dictator lie when he declared under oath that he has never been found liable for an offense that carries the penalty of perpetual disqualification to hold public office?

The indisputable fact is that Bongbong Marcos was convicted by the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City in 1995, which was upheld by the Court of Appeals in 1997, for repeated tax evasion when he served as vice-governor of Ilocos Norte from 1981 to 1983 and as governor from 1983 to 1985. Both courts convicted him by final judgment for failure to pay income tax and file income tax returns as mandated under the National Internal Revenue Code. This is a crime involving moral turpitude, which perpetually disqualifies him from public office, to vote, and to participate in any election.

What makes this case interesting for me beyond being tagged “dilawan” or “pinklawan” (a “yellow” or “pink” follower) — quite bizarre for a victim of red-tagging — is the patent distortion and manipulation now going on. There is the press statement of the Marcos camp twisting the words of the Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez that our petition had no clear case for disqualification. There is the Comelec extension of its own “inextendible deadline.” And the Marcos spokesman already knew a day ahead that the poll body would give them more time to file their reply to our petition. Miracles happen when Marcos uberlawyer Estelito Mendoza “volunteers” his services.

Kapatid is a petitioner in this case in order to tear down the lies and prevent another Marcos comeback and to oppose the double standard and selective application of the law. In the words of relatives of political prisoners: Bakit ang mga politikong nahahatulan ng pagkabilanggo ay malayang nakakatakbo sa eleksyon. Pero bakit ang mga aktibista at mahihirap ay basta-basta na lang ikinukulong at namamatay sa kulungan? (Why are politicians who have been sentenced to jail free to run in an election? But why are activists and the poor simply imprisoned and dying in jail?)

While convicted criminals Marcos Jr. and his mother Imelda have never spent a day in jail despite the greatest robbery of a government of its people during martial law — which has been abetted by the Duterte presidency for all his talk about the cocaine habits of a weakling candidate — a political prisoner died from malignant sarcoma, stomach cancer, on Nov. 18 despite repeated appeals for his humanitarian release.

One of 709 political prisoners, peasant activist Antonio Molina, 67, was the sixth political prisoner to die during the pandemic and the 11th to die under the Duterte regime. A political prisoner is generally defined to be any person deprived of liberty because of their political beliefs or in violation of their human rights.

As the Philippines now heads for elections on May 9, 2022, political prisoners and their trumped-up cases as well as their just release must be made a key part of the electoral discourse. In this regard, Kapatid raises the following platform of purpose and action on political prisoners. No candidate can be a genuine alternative if they do not take a stand for political prisoners who embody historic social injustices. No Filipino can be truly free as long as there is a single political prisoner behind bars.

1. Support the release of all political prisoners as a matter of justice because their fabricated criminal cases are designed to cover up the politically motivated nature of their arrest, stigmatize them as common criminals, and keep them in indefinite detention by denying them the right to bail.

Institute the Writ of Kalayaan as a judicial measure to pave the way for the compassionate, exigent release of very old and sick prisoners, especially those who are medically vulnerable to COVID-19. Release the wife in the case of the 22 political prisoner couples and multiple family members to allow the wife to attend to their family and her imprisoned husband. Release the numerous incidental victims of political arrests as well as convicted political prisoners who have already served their sentence and are long overdue for parole and release.

2. Stop the arrest and detention of activists, rights workers, trade unionists, community organizers and other cause-oriented citizens. Call out officials and groups that engage in red-tagging and press sanctions to make illegal this dangerous practice, which is the proximate cause breeding political prisoners in growing number and has likewise led to cold-blooded murders.

3. Enforce national and international laws such as the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Mandela Rules. Allow imprisoned mothers to keep and breastfeed their baby inside jail to ensure the chances of survival of their child. Regularly allow in food items, hygiene and sanitation supplies, medicines, and newspapers.

4. Abolish and defund the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, which is responsible for accelerating the growth in numbers of political prisoners as well as extrajudicial killings and other gross human rights violations.

5. Protect the independence and integrity of the judicial system. Do not allow courts to be used as a search warrant factory to criminalize activists and dissenters.

6. Put a stop to the weaponization of laws such as Republic Acts 10591 and 9516 on illegal possession of firearms and explosives, respectively, which are being used to plant evidence to justify political arrests, and repeal Republic Act 11479, the new Anti-Terrorism Act, and other presidential and legislative measures that transgress basic rights and foster the climate of impunity.

7. Protect the rights of political prisoners, which they do not lose even under detention. Stop the discriminatory, arbitrary and inhumane treatment and continuous persecution of political prisoners, such as keeping handcuffs on although the political prisoner is very sick or dying, or refusing to uncuff them to momentarily to embrace the coffin of a dead child.

8. Resume peace negotiations to address the root causes of armed conflict that have historically driven the phenomenon of political prisoners. Part of this agenda for peace should include the formation of a committee on political prisoners to review their trumped-up cases and to work out steps for their expeditious release, particularly the elderly and sick political prisoners.

Human rights, justice, accountability are the hallmarks of our platform in support of political prisoners and what they stand for. And they stand for all of us because they have been imprisoned for fighting for all of us without thought for their own comfort or safety. Marcos Jr. is the opposite.

Fides Lim is a writer, editor, and spokesperson of Kapatid-Families of Political Prisoners, and a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms.

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