Global Justice Tour 2013 – July 17 & 18: Prison visits
In cooperation with Canadian and Filipino trade unions, the Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (OCHRP) sent 3 people as part of a 12–person human rights delegation to the Philippines in July 2013. Members of the delegation participated in exposure missions to sites of repression and resistance in the archipelago, visiting locations where gross human rights violations have occurred and actions opposing water privatization activities take place. They also attended the three-day International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines, which gathered “human rights defenders and peace advocates from around the world, aimed at deepening our understanding of the current state of human rights and peace in the Philippines.”
OCHRP and its partners, including CUPE National, CUPE 4600, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers – Philippines (ACT), and the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), first started a Global Justice Project in 2009 in order to build ties and understanding of shared struggles among workers in Canada and the Philippines. As Phase Five of this ongoing initiative, the tour in July further strengthens the solidarity movement and support for Filipino human rights advocacy and action among Canadians.
July 17 & 18, 2013
Shortly before attending the International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines, the tour delegation traveled to two jails for the purpose of speaking with a number of political prisoners.
These prisoners include leaders and members of progressive groups involved in peaceful organizing and resistance against mining companies, privatization, forced evacuations, and other injustices. They are arrested under counter-insurgency programs, such as former president Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya and the current government’s Oplan Bayanihan, and often face trumped up, false charges that keep them imprisoned and awaiting trial for years before the cases are dismissed.
According to human rights group Karapatan, 430 political prisoners were incarcerated nationwide at the end of 2012, 148 of which were imprisoned under the current administration. (2012 Year-End Report on the Human Rights Situation in the Philippines)
First for the delegates was a trip to a prison in Daet, Camarines Norte, to speak with several political prisoners, including Randy Vegas and Raul Camposano, both union organizers and labour rights defenders for COURAGE. They face charges of murder and frustrated murder in connection with a couple of New People’s Army (NPA) encounters in April. Arrested without warrants or supporting evidence, the two say they have no affiliation with the NPA and were targeted for detainment because of their involvement in government employee picketing actions. Bulatlat.com has more details: (Janess Ann J. Ellao,”Government employees hold ‘lugawan’ for imprisoned colleagues,” 01 July 2013).
Next, the group visited the detention facility in Batangas City to meet with a group of political prisoners known as the Batangas 9. Before their imprisonment, most of these detainees were students, teachers, and farmers working to peacefully organize communities and peasants to help them stand up for their rights. After having been in the prison for up to four years, these young men and women are regarded by their fellow inmates as leaders who continue to tirelessly educate and promote human rights for all those around them. See their 2013 International Women’s Day dance video here.
The prison visits in Batangas and Daet allowed for the delegation to share stories of injustice, hope, and truly heroic dedication to human rights in the Philippines. Much of what was learned is eloquently stated in Batangas prisoner Maricon Montages’ heartfelt letter below.
July 18, 2013
Greetings of solidarity to the Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (OCHRP) and to the CUPE delegation!
Once again, we welcome all of you with our highest militant salutations. Time has passed since we have last seen each other, and yet, your organization has not failed to make the Batangas 9 feel your unwavering support. Distance and time is indeed no excuse for people who firmly uphold the desire to serve the masses that are hungry for justice and freedom.
As we recount the years that we have endured inside these walls, several challenges have tried to hinder us from achieving our objective of freedom – on a national scale, the Aquino regime has never been more brutal in its assault against the Filipino people through its counterinsurgency program – the Oplan Bayanihan. It has also terminated the peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and its reactionary government, which blatantly exposes its desire to repeal and neglect the previous agreements signed by the two parties like the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and the International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), and wants it to turn its back from its obligations from the other agreements which is to urgently release all political prisoners languishing in several prisons and military camps all over the country. Aquino continues to shrug its shoulder despite the thunderous call of the people for a genuine change, for justice and for freedom.
In effect, political prisoners like us continue to face worsening situations that constantly threaten our security, and violate our political and human rights. The presence of the 740th Combat Group of the Philippines Air Force inside this facility since our very first year of detention is one proof that there has been no significant change in our condition.
Naturally, this critical condition pushed us to persevere and be more vigilant in our struggle. Despite this, we were able to yield several victories in our campaign for freedom throughout the years. And more importantly, we were able to build strong friendships with individuals, institutions and organizations who guided and whole-heartedly reached out its helping hand to support our struggle. Such is the friendship that we have built with your organizations.
Since the very first year of our incarceration, you stood by us. Your organizations took significant steps in our campaign for freedom through a general, unconditional and omnibus amnesty, and through this, our story was heard not only by the Filipino people, it crossed oceans and continents, and you brought our fight amongst the Canadian people. Aside from this, your organizations have also played important roles in ensuring our legal, material and medical needs.
All of you have proven, yet again, that in our desire to serve the masses, in our search for justice, and in our aspirations in building a world free from exploitation, from injustice and impunity – race, language, the color of one’s skin, or distance is never a hindrance. Our great desire for freedom against the darkness of imperialism is what binds us and connects us all.
With this, we sincerely and wholeheartedly thank you for everything that your organizations have shared with us. Words are not enough to express how much we truly appreciate your collective effort in addressing the interests of the political prisoners in the Philippines, including us, the Batangas 9.
And indeed, this collective effort has proven its correctness – our cases are continuously being heard in their respective courts. In fact, the cases against the Talisay 3 will come to an end very soon. Several organizations have pledged their support in our fight. Inside the prison walls, without a doubt, the Batangas 9 has built its leadership amongst the inmates, where each of us holds a specific position in our cellblocks, showing the trust and respect of our fellow inmates. But more importantly, this shows their faith and belief in the principles that we hold on to.
But our fight does not end here. As our imprisonment prolongs, there must be no time for rest, for the victories that we have today are not enough. A greater effort must be poured out for us to accomplish greater victories. Therefore, we must be more vigilant, hardworking, and must eagerly carry on to achieve freedom, justice, and genuine social change for the people. We hope that your organizations will remain determined and firm as we continue to face more challenges until we arrive at the peak of our struggle.
Once again, thank you, and we salute the OCHRP and CUPE for being with us in this fight!
FREE THE BATANGAS 9 THROUGH A GENERAL, UNCONDITIONAL, AND OMNIBUS AMNESTY!
LONG LIVE INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY!
of the Batangas 9
Anne Marxze D. Umil,”Batangas political prisoners earned the respect, support of other inmates,” Bulatlat.com, 02 March 2013
“Karapatan calls on govt to immediately release Acosta, file charges vs. 34th IB,” Karapatan, 01 February 2013