Many of our kababayan are surprised to know that there are political prisoners in detention under the BS Aquino government. They are even more surprised to know that that there are women political prisoners who have given birth while in detention and are nursing their babies. What I want to say is: times have not changed.
I was in university when Marcos declared martial law and I have witnessed the changes, or rather, the absence of changes in the country with the post-Marcos governments. While the presidents changed, the basic terrible conditions of landlessness, poverty, unemployment, to name a few, remained the same or continued to worsen. People’s organized reaction to demand, uphold and assert their rights through various forms of resistance and dissent continued and even grew stronger. History has taught us that wherever there is dissent and resistance, there will be political prisoners. Political prisoners are the living witnesses to our times and our living reminders that “in the Philippines, it is NOT more fun.”
Writing this piece as we celebrate International Women’s Day around the globe, I would like to highlight two Filipino women political prisoners Andrea Rosal and Miradel Torres who remain behind bars at the Taguig City Jail.
Andrea Rosal was pregnant with her first child when she was illegally arrested on March 27, 2014. There is the strong belief that this was because she is the daughter of the late spokesperson Roger Rosal of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines. Like almost all political prisoners, the government has charged Andrea Rosal with trumped up criminal charges of murder and kidnapping with murder. The physical conditions in prison, lack of medical and hospital access, the actions of the guards, etc violated international rules for the treatment of women prisoners like Andrea. She gave birth to a baby girl in detention but her baby died two days later. If Andrea was accorded the treatment as stated in international conventions, she could have been better looked after and who knows, her baby could have lived.
Miradel Torres, a member of GABRIELA women’s organization, was also pregnant when she was illegally arrested on June 20, 2014. She gave birth on November 2014 to a baby girl, continues to nurse her baby son and keeps up the fight to keep her baby with her in jail. Requests by her doctors for an extended stay at the Philippine General Hospital have been denied. Like Andrea Rosal, the government has slapped her with charges of murder and frustrated murder.
The Philippine alliance of human rights organizations called Karapatan reports that there are 491 political prisoners, of which 43 are women. These statistics DO not include Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Janet Napoles, prison celebrities charged with plunder, graft and corruption. These are women criminal prisoners who are kept in jail or in hospital in conditions complete with prison comforts reserved for the elite and provided by those in power.
Napoles is the pork barrel queen who stole billions of pesos of the people’s money with accomplices from thieves posing as government officials. Of course, the public remembers former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo but may not know where she is now. The former president is charged with graft and corruption, has been in “hospital detention” since 2012 and is now always photographed with the brace around her neck. Of course, there are other male prison celebrities, Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile, all lawmakers who have broken the law. (That is another column article altogether).
What sets Andrea Rosal and Miradel Torres apart from Janet Napoles and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in terms of prison treatment? One simple answer is that the government protects its own people and its own interests. Class interests are strong in prison as it is in the outside. Andrea and Miradel are political prisoners while Janet and Gloria are common criminals.
As I finish this piece, human rights groups have filed criminal and administrative charges against the Michelle Ng-Bonto, jail warden of the Special Intensive Care Area 1 (SICA-1) in Camp Bagong
Diwa, Taguig before the Ombudsman’s Office for violations of the rights of detainees, gross misconduct, grave abuse of authority, gross oppression and unprofessional conduct. Sisterhood and human compassion apparently do not extend to female wardens.
A militant International Women’s Day to all the PnT readers and to all migrant women workers and members of Migrante BC!