December 10, 2016
Community groups to hold a candlelight vigil for the release of political prisoners
in the Philippines
On International Human Rights Day, December 10, at 4pm Filipino community groups and their allies will hold a candlelight vigil in front of St James church in downtown Montreal. Organizers hope to gather signature for a petition and to raise awareness about the plight of political prisoners in the Philippines in the height of Christmas season in Quebec.
“We hope that Christmas shoppers will take the time to speak to us learn what they can do to help with the human rights situation back in the Philippines,” says Joey Calugay of the Centre for Philippine Concerns.
There are over 400 political prisoners in detention centres across the country and many along with their families and supporters have been holding hunger strikes or solidarity fasts to pressure the Duterte government to give the prisoners their freedom.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s government had made several promises to release political prisoners as part of their strategy in the peace negotiation with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines which have been waging a rebellion in the country for over 40 years. Many of the political prisoners are political activists persecuted during the previous Aquino regime. Others are known leaders and representatives of the NDFP. Duterte’s government has released only 19 NDFP peace consultants at the resumption of peace talks between government and rebels earlier in August.
The NDFP is claiming that the Philippine government is using political prisoners as bargaining chips in its peace negotiation strategy referring to president Duterte’s has recently declaration that he will no longer release political prisoners unless the rebels sign a bilateral ceasefire. Both parties have respectively called unilateral ceasefires during the series of peace talks.
Philippine human rights organization, Karapatan, states that there are about 130 ailing and elderly political prisoners that should be released immediately. Bernabe Ocasla, a 66-year-old peasant activist, was brought to hospital after suffering from several strokes in jail and died on November28 this year. He had been in prison for 9 years without ever been convicted of a crime.
“The release of political prisoners is a matter of justice, plain and simple,” explains Calugay. “The continuing incarceration of people based on their political beliefs is indicative of the situation of human rights in the Philippines in general.”
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Contact: Elesser Bulatao, (514) 566-7949