Philippine political prisoners go on hunger strike

Protest follows death in jail of peasant leader earlier ordered released by court
Philippine political prisoners go on hunger strike

 Activists call for the release of political prisoners at a Jan. 12 protest in Manila. (Photo by George Moya)

Political prisoners in the Philippines are holding a six-day hunger strike following the Jan. 8 death in jail of an elderly peasant leader ordered released by a court last October.

Eduardo Serrano, 62, died in prison before regaining his freedom following a ruling that he was wrongfully jailed for more than 11 years. He suffered a heart attack.

Serrano, who was arrested by the military in 2004, once served as a consultant in peace negotiations between the communist National Democratic Front and the government.

"[The hunger strike] is our passive act of expressing in this peaceful manner our commiseration with the demise of our fellow political prisoner," said Tirso Alcantara, an inmate at one of Manila's "special intensive care" detention facilities.

The prisoners also are demanding the immediate release of "wrongly charged elderly and sickly political prisoners," and for the government to respect peace talks agreements, including the release of detained peace consultants.

Negotiations between the government and the communist rebels have stalled over disagreements on the release of political prisoners who the rebels say serve as consultants to their peace-talk negotiating team.

Alcantara said the hunger strike, which began Jan. 12, aims to call for "speedy justice and rectification of injustice."

Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of the human rights group Karapatan, blamed Serrano's death on "inhuman jail conditions and the slow grind of the justice system."

"Serrano would have walked out of jail a free man a long time ago had the government fulfilled its commitment to release most, if not all political prisoners," she said.

Palabay called on President Benigno Aquino to release, on humanitarian grounds, all ailing and elderly political prisoners.

In December, human rights groups and the Catholic Church called on the Philippine government to free all political prisoners in the Catholic-majority country as it started its observance of the Year of Mercy.

"It's high time for the government to listen to the church's call for mercy and compassion," Palabay said.

Of the 561 political prisoners in the country, 304 were arrested after 2010 when President Aquino came to power, according to data from Selda, an organization of former political prisoners.

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