Martial Law-era group relaunched to call for release of political prisoners

REVIVAL. Rights group Kapatid is relaunched to again call for the release of political prisoners. All photos by Micah Avry Guiao

REVIVAL. Rights group Kapatid is relaunched to again call for the release of political prisoners.

All photos by Micah Avry Guiao

MANILA, Philippines – After more than two decades, human rights advocates revived the group Kapatid as another bid towards bringing liberty to political prisoners.

In an event on Saturday, June 15, the group called for the immediate release of political prisoners on legal and humanitarian grounds, such as those who are plagued with a medical condition, and those who are long overdue for parole, pardon, or commutation of sentence.

Originally established in 1978, Kapatid was first organized as a response to government clampdown under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

Kapatid's work now revolves around 4 main goals:

According to Karapatan, another human rights group, there are currently over 500 political prisoners in the country.

Fides Lim, Kapatid national board member and wife of National Democratic Front consultant Vicente Ladlad, said that while fabrication of charges against activists is not a new concept, it has "exponentially worsened" under the Duterte administration.

SUPPORT. Advocates sign to show support for political prisoners.

SUPPORT. Advocates sign to show support for political prisoners.

'Dark past' returns

While grateful for the comeback of Kapatid, former senator Wigberto "Bobby" Tañada said it is unfortunate "that the purpose which brings us together today also hearkens to a dark past that has returned with even bloodier statistics." (READ: Martial Law, the dark chapter in Philippine history)

"The policy of criminalization of political dissent is a carryover from the martial law years," Tañada said.

"That this policy has survived into the present speaks volumes about the current state of human rights and justice under this administration." (READ: Human rights defenders also killed under Duterte administration)

Human rights lawyer and former senatorial bet Chel Diokno, meanwhile, cited weaponized lists and weaponized laws as "instruments of repression" used by the administration to restrain those who openly express dissent.

Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Chito Gascon backed calls for the release of political prisoners, adding that the situation is not acceptable in a free and democratic society.

"Ang mga kinukulong ay mga taong nanindigan lamang para sa kanilang kalayaan at karapatan, at dahil sa kanilang paninindigan at pagkilos dito, sila ay sapilitang kinukulong ng estado," he said. "Ang paglaban para sa kanilang kalayaan ay paninindigan lamang para sa isang lipunang demokratiko at malaya."

(Those detained are people who fight for their freedoms and rights, and because of their firm stand, they are detained by the state. Fighting for their freedom is simply making a stand for a free and democratic society.) – Rappler.com

Micah Avry Guiao is a Rappler intern from the Ateneo de Manila University.