ml-museum


Free All Political Prisoners
Volume 24 Number 1
Thursday, 12 January 2012 11:51

Since the establishment of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) in 1974, it has worked for the release of all political prisoners and detainees.

Let TFDP’s statements and press releases in the recent past serve as an update on the status of TFDP’s campaign for the freedom of the political prisoners.

Highlighted in most of the recent statements was the campaign for the release of Mariano Umbrero based on humanitarian grounds. Umbrero was a political prisoner who had cancer.  Unfortunately, Umbrero passed away without having experienced the sweet taste of freedom.

May 18, 2011
Rights Group Urges PNoy to Immediately Release an Ailing Political Prisoner
A human rights group Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) appeals to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III for the immediate release of an ailing 63-year old political prisoner. “We strongly appeal to President Aquino to immediately release Tatay Umbrero on humanitarian grounds for his illness to be promptly and properly addressed,” TFDP said in a statement.
Mariano Umbrero is a political prisoner at the national penitentiary National Bilibid Prison (NBP) and was also a victim of human rights violations during the Marcos regime.  He was recently diagnosed with lung cancer.
Based on his clinical abstract dated January 31, 2011 issued after his check-up at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), Umbrero has Non-Small Cell Carcinoma Stage II B. A few weeks ago, Umbrero complained of difficulty in breathing. He also had a sudden episode of intense epigastric pain which was severe enough to warrant his admission at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the NBP hospital. Aside from the said medical findings, Umbrero is also suffering from multiple organ problems that include his heart and liver.
TFDP added that due to imposed perpetual confinement, lack of proper medical care and without timely medical attention and essential needs inside the NBP, Umbrero’s physical and mental health have worsened and is in critical condition.  Since Umbrero was diagnosed, his cancer has already progressed to Stage IV.
According to TFDP, Umbrero, a suspected member of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) was convicted and incarcerated for the crime of murder and kidnapping with serious illegal detention. He was sentenced and made to suffer the penalty of “reclusion perpetua” or life imprisonment. Umbrero was detained during the 80s in Cagayan province before he was transferred to the NBP. Despite his conviction, Umbrero consistently stressed that he never participated in any of the activities of the said armed rebel group including the crime that he was accused and convicted of. He asserted that he was arrested and jailed not because of being suspected to be an NPA member but because of his principles and stance on issues affecting the lives of marginalized people.
Under the International Humanitarian Law, specifically in the provision on the Protection of the Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked, it is stated that, “All wounded, sick and shipwrecked, to whichever Party he/she belongs, shall be respected and protected. In all circumstances, they shall be treated humanely and shall receive, to the fullest possible extent and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition. There shall be no distinction between them on any other grounds.”
June 10, 2011
Rights group launches “4 O’clock Habit” in Facebook to appeal for the release of an ailing political prisoner
Amidst the issue of VIP treatment for former Governor Leviste that resulted to the resignation of the National Bilibid Prison Director Ernesto Diokno, rights group Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) urged President Aquino to release an ailing prisoner.
The group used the social networking site Facebook to solicit support by asking their friends to post an online prayer every 4PM for Mariano Umbrero, a political prisoner diagnosed with cancer. “We pray for Umbrero’s health and that God may touch PNoy’s heart and convince him to exercise his power to grant executive clemency to Tatay Umbrero whose health is deteriorating rapidly,” Emmanuel Amistad, Executive Director of TFDP said.
According to TFDP, the campaign is part of the S.O.S. Appeal Campaign for the release of Tatay Umbrero that started last month with sending of letters to President Aquino and concerned government agencies.
Mariano Umbrero, a political prisoner and currently serving his sentence at the National Bilibid Prison-NBP (national penitentiary) is in extremely critical state due to diagnosed lung cancer.
“We laud DOJ Secretary De Lima’s decisive action on reforming NBP as result of the special treatment given to rich prisoners like former Governor Leviste.  We are saddened by the realities that while rich criminals are given privileges, political prisoners who came from and fought for the poor remain in prison and are treated like criminals,” Amistad said.
“We are also disappointed with the Office of the President’s reply to our various letters of appeal with regards to Tatay Umbrero’s condition.  We were referred to the Board of Pardons and Parole. Even DOJ Secretary De Lima responded the same way by just giving referral to the Board of Pardons and Parole who have taken no action up to now.  It is urgent and imperative to free Tatay Umbrero now. Let him spend his remaining days with his loved ones. Let him breathe the air of freedom,” Amistad added.
“Tatay Umbrero has suffered more than enough.  He was also a victim of Martial Law.  His condition qualifies for pardon and even executive clemency. Let Tatay Umbrero experience freedom before it’s too late.  The BPP was able to release rich criminals like Jalosjos and others, why can’t they do it with Tatay Umbrero?” Amistad concluded.
June 13, 2011
Political Prisoners press for freedom for their ailing comrade after Araw ng Kalayaan
Political prisoners at the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) pressed government to release their ailing comrade Mariano Umbrero in line with Independence Day.
Juanito Itaas, the longest held political prisoner, convicted for the killing of Col. James Rowe, through the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), a human rights group, is calling the attention of President Aquino and DOJ Secretary De Lima to urgently act for the release of Mariano Umbrero, a political prisoner at the NBP suffering stage 4 cancer.
“Nanawagan kami kay Pangulong Aquino at DOJ Secretary De Lima, na magkaroon ng puso at ibigay ang inaasam na kalayaan ng aming kasamahang si Tatay Umbrero, na malubha na ang kalagayan dahil sa cancer” (We are appealing to President Aquino and DOJ Secretary De Lima, to have a heart and grant the long awaited freedom of our comrade Tatay Umbrero, who is in critical condition due to cancer.) Juanito Itaas said.
Secretary De Lima last week announced her intention to institute reforms in NBP due to the VIP treatment and drugs issues inside the national penitentiary.  She also halted the dismantling of “kubols” (private quarters of inmates) last week saying that she intended to study the system first and coordinate with concerned groups among the inmates.  A technical working group (TWG) which will be created to institute reforms inside the NBP will draft an action plan regarding the matter.
“Saludo kami sa maagap na pag-aksyon ni Kalihim De Lima hinggil sa mga isyu sa NBP ngunit ipinaaalala rin namin ang inilapit naming kalagayan ng mga bilanggong pulitikal noon pa mang siya ay pinuno pa ng Commission on Human Rights,” (We salute Secretary De Lima’s immediate action on issues at NBP but we would like to remind her of the situation of political prisoners that we discussed with her when she was still the CHR head) Itaas said referring to the dialogue they had with Secretary De Lima when she was still the CHR Chairperson.
“Hihintayin pa ba nilang mamatay ang isang mabuting mamamayan na katulad ni Tatay Umbrero bago sila umaksyon? Inhustisya na nga na kami ay nakulong dahil sa aming prinsipyo, inhustisya pa rin ang matatamo namin dahil sa burukrasya sa mga ahensya ng pamahalaan kahit sa bingit na ng kamatayan,” (Are they waiting for a good citizen like Tatay Umbrero to die before they act? It was injustice when they incarcerated us because of our political belief; it is still injustice we get from bureaucracy in government even in a life and death situation) he added.
According to Emmanuel Amistad, TFDP together with other human rights organizations has raised the matter with concerned agencies.  They always ended up being referred to the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP). Since the prison records of Tatay Umbrero have not been forwarded to the BPP, they can not act on the matter.
“It seems that the simple request of a dying man to breathe the air of freedom will be lost in the bureaucratic maze of government,” Amistad said.
“We ask Secretary De Lima to directly order the immediate transmission of the prison records of Tatay Umbrero to the Board of Pardons and Parole. Each day that these records are not transmitted is a day of freedom lost for Tatay Umbrero, “ Amistad added.
“Kung ayaw nilang palayain ang mga bilanggong pulitikal na katulad namin agad-agad, asikasuhin na nila muna si Tatay Umbrero.  Iparamdam naman nila ang pagiging makatao sa isang taong nasa bingit na ng kamatayan,” (If they will not immediately release political prisoners like us, they should at least act on Tatay Umbrero first.  They should show humanity to a person who is in a critical situation) Itaas lamented.
June 29, 2011
Rights group appraises PNoy’s 1 year as weak on Human Rights
Rights group Task Force Detainees of the Philippines appraised President Aquino’s one year performance as weak, especially in the area of human rights respect and protection.
“PNoy’s lack of an explicit policy on human rights, against torture and human rights violations, in particular, may be considered as the weakest link.  This can be interpreted that PNoy is either not in control or that human rights is not really part of his agenda,” Emmanuel Amistad, Executive Director of TFDP said.
According to TFDP, after the legislation of Republic Act 9745 or the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, cases of torture still persist.  Worse, perpetrators still operate with impunity.
Just recently, TFDP received reports of cases of harassment of human rights defenders in Bulacan by a certain Sgt. Mendoza and members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), and cases of torture and illegal arrests in Central Luzon and Mindanao.
“These cases prove that the “paradigm shift” that the officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been proclaiming still has a long way to go.  The government must prove its sincerity and gain the people’s confidence.”
As per TFDP documentation for the period of 1986 up to April 2011, there have been 1,122 cases of torture involving 4,839 individuals as victims. After the enactment of the Anti-Torture Law, 42 cases involving 64 victims have been documented.
“Paradigm shift, as the authorities call it, must not remain a mere proclamation. It is a must that the military and the police discontinue their practice of torturing people.  It is imperative that PNoy looks into this matter seriously with urgency.”
In the same statement, TFDP reiterated its appeal for the release of all political prisoners.  According to the group, a communication was already sent to the Office of the President regarding the urgency of the case of Tatay Umbrero.  “We appealed for executive clemency since it is within PNoy’s power to immediately act on the case of Tatay Umbrero.  But the government responded by referring Umbrero’s case to the Board of Pardons and Parole,” TFDP said.
According to the group, “It is hard to comprehend why Umbrero’s case would not deserve the urgent and immediate attention and action of PNoy.  Is this not equally important as the issue of wangwang that merited inclusion in his first State of the Nation Address?  Is human rights not included in PNoy’s matuwid na daan?”
The United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) recommends among others that the Philippine Government educate its members specially its security sectors about the right not to be tortured.  “How can PNoy raise awareness among his ranks when he seems to be busy only with issues that will hit the headlines?  Or could it be that it is PNoy who needs human rights education?” TFDP concluded.
July 2, 2011
Wife of cancer-stricken political prisoner appeals for PNoy’s Executive Clemency
Clarita Umbrero, through a hand written statement sent to media appealed to President Benigno Aquino III for the release of her cancer-stricken husband Mariano Umbrero, a political prisoner in NBP.
“The case of Tatay Umbrero needs immediate and decisive action directly by the President himself.  Time is running out for Tatay Umbrero,” Emmanuel Amistad, Executive Director of TFDP lamented.
According to the group, Mrs. Umbrero together with representatives of TFDP and the Medical Action Group (MAG) have also talked to Chairperson Etta Rosales of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) about their appeal during the event commemorating the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
(Insert scanned copy of Mrs. Umbrero’s handwritten letter)
Note: Mariano Umbrero passed away on July 15, 2011. TFDP received a communication dated July 28, 2011 from the Department of Justice expressing sadness over the death of Umbrero. Along with the DOJ letter is a copy of the conditional pardon granted by the President to Umbrero on July 19, four days after his passing.
(Insert scanned copy of communication from DOJ and copy of conditional pardon)
July 29, 2011
TFDP dismayed over PNoy’s late clemency on Umbrero
Rights group Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) was shocked and dismayed after hearing the news that President Benigno Aquino III granted clemency to the deceased political prisoner Mariano Umbrero.
“Apparently the President is oblivious to the fact that he gave conditional pardon to a dead man. Tatay Umbrero died on July 15, 2011 and PNoy signed his release papers on July 19. It seems that Umbrero’s release papers stopped at a bureaucratic red light and did not move till he was dead,” Emmanuel Amistad, Executive Director of TFDP said in disappointment.
TFDP received a copy of Umbrero’s release papers yesterday, July 28, 2011. TFDP and other human rights groups have been campaigning for his release on humanitarian grounds since early March after he was diagnosed with lung cancer in late February of this year.
According to TFDP’s records, Tatay Umbrero was one of the more than 300 political prisoners languishing in jails nationwide. Tatay Umbrero’s case was a showcase of how inhumane the bureaucracy was, specifically victimizing poor inmates like him.  It is just and reasonable to review and amend the difficult provisions of the Board of Pardons and Parole rules and regulations on granting executive clemency.
“It is necessary that PNoy listens and looks into the plight of our political prisoners.  He should learn the lesson and heed the call of the political prisoners who are now in a Hunger Strike since July 25.  PNoy should act immediately again before another Umbrero happens,” Amistad continued.
The political prisoners’ hunger strike continues on its fifth day this Friday.  Human rights groups, peoples’ organizations, religious groups and supporters gathered last Thursday inside the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) compound and held a solidarity fast with the political prisoners’ demand for freedom and human rights.
The political prisoners nationwide led by those in the National Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City have taken a step further from an indefinite fast into a full-scale hunger strike last July 25 coinciding with the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Benigno S. Aquino III.
“Now on their fifth day, the political prisoners in NBP have stopped all food intakes and only take in liquids to underscore and demonstrate their demand to the government to look into the gravity of injustice they suffered.
The prisoners are getting physically weaker as they continue their hunger strike, but their political will and courage remains as strong as ever. Let us hope and pray that no more lives will be lost before government acts on their demands. If need be, we will give them coffee to wake them up from their bureaucratic slumber. Baka kailangan pa nila ng mas maraming kape para dumilat ang kanilang mga mata at makita ang kalagayan ng mga bilanggong pulitikal,” Edeliza P. Hernandez, Executive Director of the Medical Action Group (MAG) added.
According to TFDP, the regular supply of meals of the prisoners or “rancho” as the inmates call it are now piling up in front of the NBP Building 11 where the political prisoners staged their hunger strike.
“The ongoing hunger strike of political prisoners for freedom and human rights are guided and inspired by the lessons from the prison struggles of the late Sen. Ninoy Aquino, PNoy’s father and other political prisoners during the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s and first half of the 1980s,” TFDP continued.
In a letter of appeal sent to the Office of the President, the political prisoners laid down their calls for PNoy to pronounce a clear National Human Rights program, for immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and for prison reforms particularly to amend the Rules on Parole and Guidelines for Recommending Executive Clemency which is not in conformity with the principles of restorative justice.
Meanwhile, according to Max De Mesa, chairperson of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), “It is imperative that the government declares its clear program for the respect and protection of human rights which we find lacking in the first year of the Aquino administration and in his recent SONA.”
August 1, 2011
Rights groups to Cory’s son: release all political prisoners in memory of your mother’s legacy
In time for the second year commemoration of the death of former President Corazon Aquino, rights groups, peoples’ organizations and relatives of the political prisoners on hunger strike picketed the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Padre Faura to urge government to release all political prisoners, issue a national human rights plan and amend the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) guidelines.
“We strongly urge President Aquino to follow the footsteps of his mother and release all political prisoners who are on their eighth day of hunger strike.  The best way to commemorate the death of former President Cory Aquino is to uphold democracy by respecting political beliefs, stop political incarceration in the country and start by releasing political prisoners,” said Emmanuel Amistad, executive director of the human rights group Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP).
According to the group, the political prisoners around the country led by NBP inmates are now on their eighth day of hunger strike that started July 25 coinciding with President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).
The hunger strike was triggered by the death of the cancer-stricken Tatay Mariano Umbrero last July 15, 2011. Tatay Umbrero was eventually granted clemency by President Aquino on July 19, four days after his death. Compassion came too late. For the political prisoners, Tatay Umbrero’s case clearly shows that the Aquino government has no serious intention of looking into the plight of political prisoners.
On July 28 President Aquino announced his first issuance of executive clemency for a cancer-stricken prisoner only to find out that Tatay Umbrero was already dead.
“It shocked and saddened us.  If the clemency that we had appealed for had come earlier then Tatay Umbrero would have spent his last days with his family. Nobody wants another Tatay Umbrero, so we strongly urge President Aquino to listen to the calls of the political prisoners who are now on hunger strike. We do not need another life lost before government listens,” Amistad of TFDP said.
According to the group, they are bringing their appeal to DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima because it is her department that is mandated to review the cases of Alleged Political Offenders (APO) as the secretariat of the Presidential Committee on Bail, Recognizance, Pardon and Parole (PCBREP).
“But without President Aquino’s political will to act on the plight of political prisoners, then there will be no serious and sincere action that will be made by the concerned department such as DOJ. Ang matuwid na daan ay diretso at di bako-bako. Ang daan ng rekonsilyasyon at pagkakaisa ay nakabatay sa katarungan at pagkalinga sa kapwa. Walang mawawala sa pamahalaan kung palayain nito ang bilanggong pulitikal. Hakbang ito patungo sa landas ng kapayapaan,” Amistad concluded.
Meanwhile, starting today, political detainees in the Manila City Jail (MCJ) are also joining the nationwide hunger strike and Moro political detainees in MMDJ Taguig offer their fasting for the first day of Ramadan for the call for their release.
Organizations participating in the protest action are members of Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), Medical Action Group (MAG), Balay Rehabilitation Center, Alab-Katipunan (AK), Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP), Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng Maralitang Taga Lungsod (KPML), Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM), Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), SANLAKAS and REHAS.
August 21, 2011
DOJ to reconstitute PCBREP to review the release of political prisoners
In a meeting between the human rights group Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) and the Department of Justice this Friday, Secretary Leila De Lima formally ordered the reconvening of the Presidential Committee on Bail, Recognizance and Pardon (PCBREP) to start the review for the release of political prisoners in the country.
“We welcome DOJ’s decision to reconstitute PCBREP as a concrete mechanism to act on the releases of political prisoners in the country.  It was one of the concrete actions from the government to look into the plight of the political prisoners which the hunger strikers have been calling for,” Emmanuel Amistad, Executive Director of TFDP said.
According to Amistad, the political prisoners in the National Bilibid Prison decided to suspend their 24 day hunger strike indefinitely last August 17 to give way to the dialogue between human rights groups and the government led by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and facilitated by the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) last August 16 in Malacañang.
USec. Francisco Baraan pledged in the August 16 dialogue to recommend the immediate reconstitution of PCBREP to Secretary Leila De Lima who eventually informed TFDP during their meeting on August 19, Friday, that she finally ordered the PCBREP to reconvene immediately no later than September this year with USec Baraan as its head to start the review process.
“The hunger strike has paved the way for government’s prompt action and we commend DOJ for immediately acting on our appeal.  The political prisoners can now hope that they be given attention and their freedom be acted upon by the government. We don’t want another Tatay Umbrero who suffered government’s inability and failure to act immediately, ” said Sister Crescencia Lucero, sfic, Deputy Executive Director of TFDP.
The August 16 dialogue also resulted to the upcoming review of the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) guidelines on granting executive clemency and other matters like prison reforms. This has been brought about by the unfortunate incident of Mariano Umbrero, the cancer-stricken political prisoner who died four days before President Aquino signed his executive clemency last July.
“The political prisoners know this will not be the end of our continuous struggle for their freedom.  We need to persevere and closely monitor the process of PCBREP.  The human rights community, supporters and their relatives will be more active in pursuing justice and freedom for all victims of political detention in the country and assert that the government must be sincere in acting on their concerns,” Amistad concluded.
There are now 306 political prisoners languishing in jails nationwide according to TFDP documentation as of August 15, 2011.
May 18, 2011
Rights Group Urges PNoy to Immediately Release an Ailing Political Prisoner
A human rights group Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) appeals to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III for the immediate release of an ailing 63-year old political prisoner. “We strongly appeal to President Aquino to immediately release Tatay Umbrero on humanitarian grounds for his illness to be promptly and properly addressed,” TFDP said in a statement.
Mariano Umbrero is a political prisoner at the national penitentiary National Bilibid Prison (NBP) and was also a victim of human rights violations during the Marcos regime.  He was recently diagnosed with lung cancer.
Based on his clinical abstract dated January 31, 2011 issued after his check-up at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), Umbrero has Non-Small Cell Carcinoma Stage II B. A few weeks ago, Umbrero complained of difficulty in breathing. He also had a sudden episode of intense epigastric pain which was severe enough to warrant his admission at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the NBP hospital. Aside from the said medical findings, Umbrero is also suffering from multiple organ problems that include his heart and liver.
TFDP added that due to imposed perpetual confinement, lack of proper medical care and without timely medical attention and essential needs inside the NBP, Umbrero’s physical and mental health have worsened and is in critical condition.  Since Umbrero was diagnosed, his cancer has already progressed to Stage IV.
According to TFDP, Umbrero, a suspected member of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) was convicted and incarcerated for the crime of murder and kidnapping with serious illegal detention. He was sentenced and made to suffer the penalty of “reclusion perpetua” or life imprisonment. Umbrero was detained during the 80s in Cagayan province before he was transferred to the NBP. Despite his conviction, Umbrero consistently stressed that he never participated in any of the activities of the said armed rebel group including the crime that he was accused and convicted of. He asserted that he was arrested and jailed not because of being suspected to be an NPA member but because of his principles and stance on issues affecting the lives of marginalized people.
Under the International Humanitarian Law, specifically in the provision on the Protection of the Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked, it is stated that, “All wounded, sick and shipwrecked, to whichever Party he/she belongs, shall be respected and protected. In all circumstances, they shall be treated humanely and shall receive, to the fullest possible extent and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition. There shall be no distinction between them on any other grounds.”
June 10, 2011
Rights group launches “4 O’clock Habit” in Facebook to appeal for the release of an ailing political prisoner
Amidst the issue of VIP treatment for former Governor Leviste that resulted to the resignation of the National Bilibid Prison Director Ernesto Diokno, rights group Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) urged President Aquino to release an ailing prisoner.
The group used the social networking site Facebook to solicit support by asking their friends to post an online prayer every 4PM for Mariano Umbrero, a political prisoner diagnosed with cancer. “We pray for Umbrero’s health and that God may touch PNoy’s heart and convince him to exercise his power to grant executive clemency to Tatay Umbrero whose health is deteriorating rapidly,” Emmanuel Amistad, Executive Director of TFDP said.
According to TFDP, the campaign is part of the S.O.S. Appeal Campaign for the release of Tatay Umbrero that started last month with sending of letters to President Aquino and concerned government agencies.
Mariano Umbrero, a political prisoner and currently serving his sentence at the National Bilibid Prison-NBP (national penitentiary) is in extremely critical state due to diagnosed lung cancer.
“We laud DOJ Secretary De Lima’s decisive action on reforming NBP as result of the special treatment given to rich prisoners like former Governor Leviste.  We are saddened by the realities that while rich criminals are given privileges, political prisoners who came from and fought for the poor remain in prison and are treated like criminals,” Amistad said.
“We are also disappointed with the Office of the President’s reply to our various letters of appeal with regards to Tatay Umbrero’s condition.  We were referred to the Board of Pardons and Parole. Even DOJ Secretary De Lima responded the same way by just giving referral to the Board of Pardons and Parole who have taken no action up to now.  It is urgent and imperative to free Tatay Umbrero now. Let him spend his remaining days with his loved ones. Let him breathe the air of freedom,” Amistad added.
“Tatay Umbrero has suffered more than enough.  He was also a victim of Martial Law.  His condition qualifies for pardon and even executive clemency. Let Tatay Umbrero experience freedom before it’s too late.  The BPP was able to release rich criminals like Jalosjos and others, why can’t they do it with Tatay Umbrero?” Amistad concluded.
June 13, 2011
Political Prisoners press for freedom for their ailing comrade after Araw ng Kalayaan
Political prisoners at the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) pressed government to release their ailing comrade Mariano Umbrero in line with Independence Day.
Juanito Itaas, the longest held political prisoner, convicted for the killing of Col. James Rowe, through the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), a human rights group, is calling the attention of President Aquino and DOJ Secretary De Lima to urgently act for the release of Mariano Umbrero, a political prisoner at the NBP suffering stage 4 cancer.
“Nanawagan kami kay Pangulong Aquino at DOJ Secretary De Lima, na magkaroon ng puso at ibigay ang inaasam na kalayaan ng aming kasamahang si Tatay Umbrero, na malubha na ang kalagayan dahil sa cancer” (We are appealing to President Aquino and DOJ Secretary De Lima, to have a heart and grant the long awaited freedom of our comrade Tatay Umbrero, who is in critical condition due to cancer.) Juanito Itaas said.
Secretary De Lima last week announced her intention to institute reforms in NBP due to the VIP treatment and drugs issues inside the national penitentiary.  She also halted the dismantling of “kubols” (private quarters of inmates) last week saying that she intended to study the system first and coordinate with concerned groups among the inmates.  A technical working group (TWG) which will be created to institute reforms inside the NBP will draft an action plan regarding the matter.
“Saludo kami sa maagap na pag-aksyon ni Kalihim De Lima hinggil sa mga isyu sa NBP ngunit ipinaaalala rin namin ang inilapit naming kalagayan ng mga bilanggong pulitikal noon pa mang siya ay pinuno pa ng Commission on Human Rights,” (We salute Secretary De Lima’s immediate action on issues at NBP but we would like to remind her of the situation of political prisoners that we discussed with her when she was still the CHR head) Itaas said referring to the dialogue they had with Secretary De Lima when she was still the CHR Chairperson.
“Hihintayin pa ba nilang mamatay ang isang mabuting mamamayan na katulad ni Tatay Umbrero bago sila umaksyon? Inhustisya na nga na kami ay nakulong dahil sa aming prinsipyo, inhustisya pa rin ang matatamo namin dahil sa burukrasya sa mga ahensya ng pamahalaan kahit sa bingit na ng kamatayan,” (Are they waiting for a good citizen like Tatay Umbrero to die before they act? It was injustice when they incarcerated us because of our political belief; it is still injustice we get from bureaucracy in government even in a life and death situation) he added.
According to Emmanuel Amistad, TFDP together with other human rights organizations has raised the matter with concerned agencies.  They always ended up being referred to the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP). Since the prison records of Tatay Umbrero have not been forwarded to the BPP, they can not act on the matter.
“It seems that the simple request of a dying man to breathe the air of freedom will be lost in the bureaucratic maze of government,” Amistad said.
“We ask Secretary De Lima to directly order the immediate transmission of the prison records of Tatay Umbrero to the Board of Pardons and Parole. Each day that these records are not transmitted is a day of freedom lost for Tatay Umbrero, “ Amistad added.
“Kung ayaw nilang palayain ang mga bilanggong pulitikal na katulad namin agad-agad, asikasuhin na nila muna si Tatay Umbrero.  Iparamdam naman nila ang pagiging makatao sa isang taong nasa bingit na ng kamatayan,” (If they will not immediately release political prisoners like us, they should at least act on Tatay Umbrero first.  They should show humanity to a person who is in a critical situation) Itaas lamented.
June 29, 2011

Rights group appraises PNoy’s 1 year as weak on Human Rights
Rights group Task Force Detainees of the Philippines appraised President Aquino’s one year performance as weak, especially in the area of human rights respect and protection.
“PNoy’s lack of an explicit policy on human rights, against torture and human rights violations, in particular, may be considered as the weakest link.  This can be interpreted that PNoy is either not in control or that human rights is not really part of his agenda,” Emmanuel Amistad, Executive Director of TFDP said.
According to TFDP, after the legislation of Republic Act 9745 or the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, cases of torture still persist.  Worse, perpetrators still operate with impunity.
Just recently, TFDP received reports of cases of harassment of human rights defenders in Bulacan by a certain Sgt. Mendoza and members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), and cases of torture and illegal arrests in Central Luzon and Mindanao.
“These cases prove that the “paradigm shift” that the officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been proclaiming still has a long way to go.  The government must prove its sincerity and gain the people’s confidence.”
As per TFDP documentation for the period of 1986 up to April 2011, there have been 1,122 cases of torture involving 4,839 individuals as victims. After the enactment of the Anti-Torture Law, 42 cases involving 64 victims have been documented.
“Paradigm shift, as the authorities call it, must not remain a mere proclamation. It is a must that the military and the police discontinue their practice of torturing people.  It is imperative that PNoy looks into this matter seriously with urgency.”
In the same statement, TFDP reiterated its appeal for the release of all political prisoners.  According to the group, a communication was already sent to the Office of the President regarding the urgency of the case of Tatay Umbrero.  “We appealed for executive clemency since it is within PNoy’s power to immediately act on the case of Tatay Umbrero.  But the government responded by referring Umbrero’s case to the Board of Pardons and Parole,” TFDP said.
According to the group, “It is hard to comprehend why Umbrero’s case would not deserve the urgent and immediate attention and action of PNoy.  Is this not equally important as the issue of wangwang that merited inclusion in his first State of the Nation Address?  Is human rights not included in PNoy’s matuwid na daan?”
The United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) recommends among others that the Philippine Government educate its members specially its security sectors about the right not to be tortured.  “How can PNoy raise awareness among his ranks when he seems to be busy only with issues that will hit the headlines?  Or could it be that it is PNoy who needs human rights education?” TFDP concluded.
July 2, 2011
Wife of cancer-stricken political prisoner appeals for PNoy’s Executive Clemency
Clarita Umbrero, through a hand written statement sent to media appealed to President Benigno Aquino III for the release of her cancer-stricken husband Mariano Umbrero, a political prisoner in NBP.
“The case of Tatay Umbrero needs immediate and decisive action directly by the President himself.  Time is running out for Tatay Umbrero,” Emmanuel Amistad, Executive Director of TFDP lamented.
According to the group, Mrs. Umbrero together with representatives of TFDP and the Medical Action Group (MAG) have also talked to Chairperson Etta Rosales of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) about their appeal during the event commemorating the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
Note: Mariano Umbrero passed away on July 15, 2011. TFDP received a communication dated July 28, 2011 from the Department of Justice expressing sadness over the death of Umbrero. Along with the DOJ letter is a copy of the conditional pardon granted by the President to Umbrero on July 19, four days after his passing.
July 29, 2011
TFDP dismayed over PNoy’s late clemency on Umbrero
Rights group Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) was shocked and dismayed after hearing the news that President Benigno Aquino III granted clemency to the deceased political prisoner Mariano Umbrero.
“Apparently the President is oblivious to the fact that he gave conditional pardon to a dead man. Tatay Umbrero died on July 15, 2011 and PNoy signed his release papers on July 19. It seems that Umbrero’s release papers stopped at a bureaucratic red light and did not move till he was dead,” Emmanuel Amistad, Executive Director of TFDP said in disappointment.
TFDP received a copy of Umbrero’s release papers yesterday, July 28, 2011. TFDP and other human rights groups have been campaigning for his release on humanitarian grounds since early March after he was diagnosed with lung cancer in late February of this year.
According to TFDP’s records, Tatay Umbrero was one of the more than 300 political prisoners languishing in jails nationwide. Tatay Umbrero’s case was a showcase of how inhumane the bureaucracy was, specifically victimizing poor inmates like him.  It is just and reasonable to review and amend the difficult provisions of the Board of Pardons and Parole rules and regulations on granting executive clemency.
“It is necessary that PNoy listens and looks into the plight of our political prisoners.  He should learn the lesson and heed the call of the political prisoners who are now in a Hunger Strike since July 25.  PNoy should act immediately again before another Umbrero happens,” Amistad continued.
The political prisoners’ hunger strike continues on its fifth day this Friday.  Human rights groups, peoples’ organizations, religious groups and supporters gathered last Thursday inside the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) compound and held a solidarity fast with the political prisoners’ demand for freedom and human rights.
The political prisoners nationwide led by those in the National Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City have taken a step further from an indefinite fast into a full-scale hunger strike last July 25 coinciding with the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Benigno S. Aquino III.
“Now on their fifth day, the political prisoners in NBP have stopped all food intakes and only take in liquids to underscore and demonstrate their demand to the government to look into the gravity of injustice they suffered.
The prisoners are getting physically weaker as they continue their hunger strike, but their political will and courage remains as strong as ever. Let us hope and pray that no more lives will be lost before government acts on their demands. If need be, we will give them coffee to wake them up from their bureaucratic slumber. Baka kailangan pa nila ng mas maraming kape para dumilat ang kanilang mga mata at makita ang kalagayan ng mga bilanggong pulitikal,” Edeliza P. Hernandez, Executive Director of the Medical Action Group (MAG) added.
According to TFDP, the regular supply of meals of the prisoners or “rancho” as the inmates call it are now piling up in front of the NBP Building 11 where the political prisoners staged their hunger strike.
“The ongoing hunger strike of political prisoners for freedom and human rights are guided and inspired by the lessons from the prison struggles of the late Sen. Ninoy Aquino, PNoy’s father and other political prisoners during the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s and first half of the 1980s,” TFDP continued.
In a letter of appeal sent to the Office of the President, the political prisoners laid down their calls for PNoy to pronounce a clear National Human Rights program, for immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and for prison reforms particularly to amend the Rules on Parole and Guidelines for Recommending Executive Clemency which is not in conformity with the principles of restorative justice.
Meanwhile, according to Max De Mesa, chairperson of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), “It is imperative that the government declares its clear program for the respect and protection of human rights which we find lacking in the first year of the Aquino administration and in his recent SONA.”
August 1, 2011
Rights groups to Cory’s son: release all political prisoners in memory of your mother’s legacy
In time for the second year commemoration of the death of former President Corazon Aquino, rights groups, peoples’ organizations and relatives of the political prisoners on hunger strike picketed the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Padre Faura to urge government to release all political prisoners, issue a national human rights plan and amend the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) guidelines.
“We strongly urge President Aquino to follow the footsteps of his mother and release all political prisoners who are on their eighth day of hunger strike.  The best way to commemorate the death of former President Cory Aquino is to uphold democracy by respecting political beliefs, stop political incarceration in the country and start by releasing political prisoners,” said Emmanuel Amistad, executive director of the human rights group Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP).
According to the group, the political prisoners around the country led by NBP inmates are now on their eighth day of hunger strike that started July 25 coinciding with President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).
The hunger strike was triggered by the death of the cancer-stricken Tatay Mariano Umbrero last July 15, 2011. Tatay Umbrero was eventually granted clemency by President Aquino on July 19, four days after his death. Compassion came too late. For the political prisoners, Tatay Umbrero’s case clearly shows that the Aquino government has no serious intention of looking into the plight of political prisoners.
On July 28 President Aquino announced his first issuance of executive clemency for a cancer-stricken prisoner only to find out that Tatay Umbrero was already dead.
“It shocked and saddened us.  If the clemency that we had appealed for had come earlier then Tatay Umbrero would have spent his last days with his family. Nobody wants another Tatay Umbrero, so we strongly urge President Aquino to listen to the calls of the political prisoners who are now on hunger strike. We do not need another life lost before government listens,” Amistad of TFDP said.
According to the group, they are bringing their appeal to DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima because it is her department that is mandated to review the cases of Alleged Political Offenders (APO) as the secretariat of the Presidential Committee on Bail, Recognizance, Pardon and Parole (PCBREP).
“But without President Aquino’s political will to act on the plight of political prisoners, then there will be no serious and sincere action that will be made by the concerned department such as DOJ. Ang matuwid na daan ay diretso at di bako-bako. Ang daan ng rekonsilyasyon at pagkakaisa ay nakabatay sa katarungan at pagkalinga sa kapwa. Walang mawawala sa pamahalaan kung palayain nito ang bilanggong pulitikal. Hakbang ito patungo sa landas ng kapayapaan,” Amistad concluded.
Meanwhile, starting today, political detainees in the Manila City Jail (MCJ) are also joining the nationwide hunger strike and Moro political detainees in MMDJ Taguig offer their fasting for the first day of Ramadan for the call for their release.
Organizations participating in the protest action are members of Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), Medical Action Group (MAG), Balay Rehabilitation Center, Alab-Katipunan (AK), Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP), Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng Maralitang Taga Lungsod (KPML), Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM), Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), SANLAKAS and REHAS.
August 21, 2011
DOJ to reconstitute PCBREP to review the release of political prisoners
In a meeting between the human rights group Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) and the Department of Justice this Friday, Secretary Leila De Lima formally ordered the reconvening of the Presidential Committee on Bail, Recognizance and Pardon (PCBREP) to start the review for the release of political prisoners in the country.
“We welcome DOJ’s decision to reconstitute PCBREP as a concrete mechanism to act on the releases of political prisoners in the country.  It was one of the concrete actions from the government to look into the plight of the political prisoners which the hunger strikers have been calling for,” Emmanuel Amistad, Executive Director of TFDP said.
According to Amistad, the political prisoners in the National Bilibid Prison decided to suspend their 24 day hunger strike indefinitely last August 17 to give way to the dialogue between human rights groups and the government led by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and facilitated by the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) last August 16 in Malacañang.
USec. Francisco Baraan pledged in the August 16 dialogue to recommend the immediate reconstitution of PCBREP to Secretary Leila De Lima who eventually informed TFDP during their meeting on August 19, Friday, that she finally ordered the PCBREP to reconvene immediately no later than September this year with USec Baraan as its head to start the review process.
“The hunger strike has paved the way for government’s prompt action and we commend DOJ for immediately acting on our appeal.  The political prisoners can now hope that they be given attention and their freedom be acted upon by the government. We don’t want another Tatay Umbrero who suffered government’s inability and failure to act immediately, ” said Sister Crescencia Lucero, sfic, Deputy Executive Director of TFDP.
The August 16 dialogue also resulted to the upcoming review of the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) guidelines on granting executive clemency and other matters like prison reforms. This has been brought about by the unfortunate incident of Mariano Umbrero, the cancer-stricken political prisoner who died four days before President Aquino signed his executive clemency last July.
“The political prisoners know this will not be the end of our continuous struggle for their freedom.  We need to persevere and closely monitor the process of PCBREP.  The human rights community, supporters and their relatives will be more active in pursuing justice and freedom for all victims of political detention in the country and assert that the government must be sincere in acting on their concerns,” Amistad concluded.
There are now 306 political prisoners languishing in jails nationwide according to TFDP documentation as of August 15, 2011.

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