Political prisoners, families on hunger strike for papal visit
MANILA, Philippines – More than 500 political prisoners will be on hunger strike to welcome Pope Francis who, they hope, will see the reality of the justice system in the country.
“We are putting the whole of ourselves in our plea for return of our freedom, application of justice, and respect for human rights" which had been taken away from them, they said in a statement.
Detainees in Camp Bagong Diwa, meanwhile, have been on hunger strike since January 10. They’ve requested the food budget supposedly allocated for them to be given instead to Super Typhoon Yolanda survivors.
According to human rights group Karapatan, there are at least 490 documented political detainees spread across the country. Most of them have been in jail for more than 5 years due to slow judicial processes.
In solidarity with the detained
A wife longing for her husband, a mother longing for her son, and a daughter longing for her father are among those who gathered in front of the Apostolic Nunciature along Taft on Wednesday, January 14.
They, together with human rights advocates, will also hold a solidarity fasting to further raise awareness of their struggle for the release of their family members.
Despite the language barrier, Julietta Cardoza hopes that the Holy Father’s presence can open the eyes of the Aquino administration to the unjust treatment of “wrongly accused” prisoners.
Her husband, Leopoldo, has been in jail since 2006 despite 18 of his 20 criminal cases having been dismissed.
“Hindi ako marunong mag-Ingles pero nagsusumamo ako kay Pope Francis na sana ay suportahan niya kami sa paghingi ng hustisya para sa mga nabilanggo,” she said. (I don’t know how to speak English but I’m pleading for Pope Francis to support our struggle for justice for those in prison.)
Life has not been easy for Julietta but she is determined to fight for justice to great lengths – even if she needs to put her life at risk.
“Napakahirap na tumayo bilang ina at ama, namatayan pa ako ng anak,” she lamented. “Pero hindi ako nagsasawang maglakad sa lansangan para po ipanawagan na palayaan na po ang aking asawa at lahat ng bilanggong pulitikal sa ating bansa.”
(It’s hard to play the role of a father and a mother, I’ve lost a child. But I will not get tired of going to the streets to call for the release of my husband and all political prisoners in the country.)
Meanwhile the daughter of detained peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Renante Gamara, Nikki Gamara, hopes she will finally be with her father again through the help of Pope Francis.
“Excited kami na dadating siya kasi immersed siya sa social issues talaga,” she told Rappler. “Gusto naming siyang hikayatin na makasama kami sa panawagan na palayaan ang mga political prisoners, iyong tatay ko, kasi malaki ang maiitulong talaga ang pinakamataas na lider ng simbahan.”
(We’re really excited for him to come because he’s immersed in social issues. We want to encourage him to also join our call for release of the political prisoners, my father included, because his role as the leader of the Catholic Church is vital.)
Resume peace talks now
In addition to the release, Karapatan also called for the resumption of peace talks between the government and the NDFP.
“Gusto naming matuloy na din ang peace talks between the government and NDFP,” Cecille Ruiz of Karapatan-Gitnang Luzon told Rappler. “Nakikita namin na isang hakbang iyong pagpapalaya sa mga political prisoners para tuluyan na itong mangyari.”
(We want the peace talks to finally happen between the government and the NDFP. The release of the political prisoners will be a first step toward achieving this.)
Even if they will not be given the chance to air out their concern to the Holy Father, the families believe that the nationwide hunger strike and fasting will still reach him and hopefully will shed light on the perpetual darkness that is the future of political prisoners. – Rappler.com
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