[Statement] Joint statement of AFAD and FIND: Freedom to all Political Prisoners, Justice to all Desaparecidos

The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) strongly urge the Philippine government to immediately release all political prisoners even as we lament the failure of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to heed with dispatch the prisoners’ call for freedom. Prompt and favorable response by government could have averted the current hapless condition of the political prisoners who are now on the 19th day of their hunger strike.

There are 313 political prisoners and detainees who are still languishing in various detention facilities all over the country according to the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP).  But the Philippine government continues to deny them political recognition by charging them with common criminal offenses.  It is a clear breach of international human rights and humanitarian laws, especially the right to liberty as well as the international standards of fair trial and other rights of detained and confined persons.

We, the families and friends of the victims of enforced disappearance, support the call of the political prisoners on the Philippine government to rectify their erroneous arrest and deprivation of liberty to pave the way not only for their immediate release but also to open the door for us to find our disappeared loved ones.

Most if not all political prisoners, have invariably disclosed that they have been subjected to enforced disappearance and various acts of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment during the period of their arrest and custodial investigation.  Some of them have been tortured to death like the case of the six PICOP (paper factory) workers in Agusan del Sur in the Southern Philippines whose tortured and lifeless bodies were burned to ashes by the members of the 62nd ID of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in October 2000.

While many among us would like to believe that our dear Desaparecidos are still unaccounted political prisoners, the possibility for those who have long been missing to have been mercilessly killed and unceremoniously dumped into some unmarked graves nags at our minds.

Enforced disappearance is an abominable tool resorted to by the State to eschew legitimate arrest and detention of political and social activists who are conveniently labeled as “Enemies of the State.” This also ensures the removal of hard evidence especially in case of secret disposal of dead bodies. It gives rise to multiple human rights transgressions as it violates the basic rights to liberty, due process of law and ultimately to life. Enforced disappearance undeniably creates a climate of uncertainty and terror for the victims and their families and society as a whole.

We, therefore, strongly urge the Philippine government to comply with its responsibilities under international law and fully respect human rights principles by putting an end to enforced disappearance and witch hunting as means to stifle political dissent.

One concrete step that the Philippine government should take is to accede without reservation to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.  The Convention, which upholds the right to truth and the non-derogability of the right against enforced disappearance, requires States to criminalize enforced disappearance in their statute books.

Should the Philippine government enact an Anti-Enforced Disappearance law, it will guarantee not only the prevention of the commission of enforced disappearance but also the illegal arrest and detention of political prisoners As the law would require an up-to-date registry of persons deprived of liberty among other safeguards against violation of their rights.   It will also serve as a good example to other Asian States which are facing similar phenomena of illegal detention and enforced disappearances.

Time is indeed of the essence for human rights victims. President Aquino should act NOW. He should not treat the on-going hunger strike of political prisoners as merely a humanitarian issue but a basic political element towards attaining peace and justice in the country.

The President should recognize that the political prisoners are not common criminals but prisoners of conscience like his father, the late Sen. Ninoy Aquino Jr. even as he is duty bound to bring justice the perpetrators of enforced disappearance from the Marcos regime to his own dispensation.




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