[Reflection] The Blind Side


Mariano Umbrero, a political prisoner suffering from lung cancer, passed away on July 15, 2011. Photo from hronlineph.wordpress.com

The news that Mariano Umbrero, a political prisoner who was suffering from stage four – lung cancer died at the National Bilibid Prison Hospital on July 15, 2011, was not only saddening but also disturbing.

It was lamentable that despite incessant appeals of the families, friends and human right advocates both here and abroad to the Pnoy administration for his immediate and unconditional release on humanitarian ground since he was diagnosed with a respiratory disease in February of this year, it was uncaringly ignored by the government as he was left to perish in jail without receiving freedom and compassion.

Umbrero was just one of more than 300 political prisoners in country. He was a suspected member of the Communist Party of the PhilippinesNew People’s Army (CPP-NPA) when he was arrested and detained. He was charged and convicted for a common crime of murder and kidnapping with serious illegal detention.

Political prisoner is defined under Philippine law as person who has been arrested or detained by reason of the commission of an act penalized by existing law as political crime, or by reason of any other act which is complexes with, or connected to such crime, or impelled by a political reason or motive. Or simply, a prisoner who is held for political reason.

Considered as “prisoners of conscience” under international humanitarian law, they are locked up for speaking out against their government, for exercising their rights, practicing their religion, culture, race or gender.

What is disturbing is that keeping political prisoners behind bars through criminalization of political offense as a form of repression continue to happen up to this day. What makes it more inhuman is to allow them to suffer and die in prison without giving them due recognition.

President Aquino as a son of political prisoner during Martial law should know better the plight of political prisoners and why they should be set free and as the President, he now holds the sole authority to correct the miscarriage of justice against them by granting them with an executive clemency.

If Pnoy saw the merit and substance of granting of amnesty to 300 rebel soldiers, who were involved and charged for the July 2003 Oakwood mutiny; the February 2006 Marines standoff; and the November 2007 Manila Peninsula takeover for the purpose of political reconciliation and unity, why could he not give the same consideration and equal treatment to all political prisoners in the country? If he could order to drop charges against the so-called “Morong 43“, as a confidence building measure for the resumption of the peace talks with communist rebels, why could he not demonstrate the same goodwill and compassion to free all political prisoners to show its complete sincerity to achieve long and lasting peace in this country?

By not acting decisively and urgently on the appeal for Umbrero’s immediate release before he died last Friday, Pnoy did not only miss the opportune moment to show his government’s compassion for those who have fallen victims to injustice but he also failed to prove that he would be an exact opposite of his predecessor not perhaps for intently committing gross human rights violations but rather for not doing enough to improve the human rights situation.

Ensuring respect for human dignity, ending impunity, and freeing those are imprisoned for political reason are the concerete steps that the Pnoy government needs to undertake to reassure the Filipino people that real change is coming after decades of authoritarian rule. Failing to do so only means that human rights remain at the blind side of the government’s priorities.

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