Thursday, December 6, 2012

A political prisoner’s song

For Toni Morrison, an African-American writer and Nobel prize winner for literature, the crucial distinction is not the difference between fact and fiction, but between fact and truth. “Because facts can exist without human intelligence, but truth cannot,” she writes.
History tells us that repressive governments never waver in denying the truth, until they come crushing down in defeat to the forces of change. Wherever there is repression, there is always a cover-up by those who are culpable. The amazing truth is they almost believe their infallibility, that their crimes against the people would never be exposed.
Take the case of the state of political prisoners in the Philippines, for example.
President Benigno Aquino III has steadfastly maintained that the present government has no official policy on human rights violations. The spokesperson for President Aquino, Edwin Lacierda, speaking on behalf of his boss, said this is so because there are no political prisoners in the Philippines. Remember that this was also the official line of the Marcos dictatorship from 1972 until 1984 when more than 70,000 political prisoners were arbitrarily detained during the martial law period. The same position was duplicated by President Aquino’s predecessors, from his mother Cory Aquino to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Click link to view
"Tanikala at Talinhaga (Chained Metaphors), a doucmentary on artist-
political prisoners in the Philippines, featuring the segment on poet
Ericson Acosta.
Denial has always been the customary practice of repressive governments or states that have no respect for human dignity. Argentina, Chile, Cambodia, Burma and other states that went through a period of repressive rule had denied the existence of political prisoners in their countries. To these despotic regimes, there was only one category of prisoners: prisoners held under criminal law.
Without charging anyone for complicity with rebellion or treason or for participation in any political activity that opposed the government, these prisoners were held for common crimes such as murder, assault, robbery, kidnapping, illegal possession of firearms, disturbing the peace, and other garden-variety infractions.
Karapatan, a human rights non-governmental organization in the Philippines, has found almost 447 documented victims of illegal arrests under the present Aquino government from July 2010 to September 2012. These were farmers and indigenous peoples rounded up by the Philippine military in the fields and forests on the pretext that they were New People’s Army (NPA) soldiers or supporters. During that same period, Karapatan also documented some 401 political prisoners, with 123 persons arrested and detained by the Aquino government.
But the Aquino government deemed these individuals as mere common criminals, who committed crimes against the law, and therefore, must be put in prison. So far, from the time martial law was imposed in 1972 until now, those who have opposed or criticized the government of the Philippines, or who might have participated in political activity opposed to the government whether by peaceful means or resistance, could spend time in jail as common criminals. Yet as common criminals, the irony is they are deprived of their right to a speedy trial to which they are entitled under the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. In fact, they could be detained for as long as the government wants. After languishing in jail, they are released with the charges against them dropped without going to trial.
This was the lasting legacy of martial law under Ferdinand Marcos. A legacy that engendered a culture of impunity by the state – from illegal arrests and detention to torture to forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings. Cases upon cases have been documented by Karapatan and other human rights organizations, yet the government continues to deny that there are political prisoners. Only common criminals, the government insists.
Very recently last week, President Noynoy Aquino must have suffered from a change of heart. He ordered the creation of an Inter-Agency Committee (IAC) to handle cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other forms of human rights abuses committed under the previous administration. Note that documented cases of abuses and violations of human rights under the Aquino administration are not covered by this new human rights body.
But why create this human rights “superbody” in the first place?
A month ago in Phnom Penh, leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that included President Aquino adopted a human rights declaration that purportedly would enshrine human right protections for the region’s 600 million people. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario called it as “a legacy for our children.” Immediately, the ASEAN agreement came under fire from various critics including the United Nations rights chief, Navi Pillay, who asked that the pact be postponed because of concerns that it might undermine universal rights standards by allowing loopholes for governments.
This didn’t stop President Aquino from jumping the gun and ordering the creation of his government’s new human rights “superbody.” But here’s the catch. Aquino appointed the heads of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) as members of the Inter-Agency Committee (IAC). How could we then expect the IAC to be an independent body when the chiefs of the AFP and PNP are involved in investigating and resolving cases of human rights violations carried out by their own members? How is this body different from the Melo Commission during the Arroyo administration? Recall that despite evidence pointing to members of the military and the police as perpetrators of human rights violations, the Melo Commission exonerated them of any complicity or responsibility for crimes against human rights.
Critics of the ASEAN human rights pact are right in stating that the declaration only lowers human rights standards by creating new loopholes and justifications ASEAN members can use to justify abusing the rights of their citizens. Aquino’s Inter-Agency Committee, other than a mere publicity stunt for the administration’s avowed seriousness in defending human rights, is just another new loophole for the government to absolve the military and the police of abuses and violations of human rights.
If President Aquino is truly sincere with his promise three years ago to uphold human rights, he can begin with a declaration of amnesty to all political prisoners who are languishing in various prisons in the country. But first, he must admit that there are political prisoners in the Philippines. The recognition of political prisoners is essential to a democratic and national reconciliation process. Denial of their political status is a denial of their human dignity.
December 3 marks the International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners as
detainees around the world raise awareness of their plight and longing for freedom
through poetry reading. Click link
to listen  to Anakbayan-Toronto as they read on Radyo Migrante "Awit ng Bilanggong
Politikal/Political Prisoner's Song,"  a poem written by peasant advocate, Axel Pinpin.
Last Monday, December 3, political prisoners from all over the Philippines commemorated the International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners with a reading of a poem about the longing for freedom. The poem, “Awit ng Bilanggong Politikal” (Political Prisoner’s Song) was written by Axel Pinpin, a peasant advocate imprisoned during the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration. Pinpin was arrested in Tagaytay City along with four others and spent more than two years in prison before being released without trial for alleged crimes.
Originally written in Filipino, the poem has been translated in seven languages, including French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. Pinpin’s poem was read by political prisoners in Quezon Provincial Jail, Laguna Provincial Jail, Camp Vicente Lim, Batangas Provincial Jail, Bicutan Detention Center, Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center at Camp Crame and other detention facilities in Bicol and Samar. High-profile political prisoners in other countries, including journalist Mumia Ali-Jamal, the Cuban 5, punk band Pussy Riot and Kurdistan revolutionary leader Abdullah Öcalan also joined the poetry reading.
Here’s Axel Pinpin’s poem:
Ang pader ko’y di lamang malamig at malagkit,
Nakakwadro rin dito ang latay ng pasakit.
Ang sahig ko’y di lamang marumi at maganit,
Nakaratay din dito ang tisikong inip.
Ang rehas ko’y di lamang kalawang ang galis,
Naglangib na rin dito ang paglayang nais.
(My wall is not only cold and unkempt,
Framed on it is the welt mark of torment.
My floor is not only dirty and roughly done,
Laid on it is my sick boredom
My prison bars do not only have rust for scabs,
Crusting on it are wounds of longed for freedom.)
Wisikan ng tula ang langib ng paglaya!
Wasakin, wasakin ang rehas na sutla!
Wakasan, wakasan ang salot ng pagdusta!
Bumangon sa dilim na ngitngit ang tanglaw!
Banggain, banggain ang pader na ampaw!
Banggain ang karsel na pagtakas ang hiyaw!
(Wash with the salve of poems the wounds of freedom!
Bash, bash down the smooth bars of prison!
Smash, and smash down the pestilence of oppression!
Rise, rise up in the night with the raging light!
Break, break down the weak walls of repression!
Fight, fight back incarceration with cries of emancipation!)

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