Cultural workers harassed by jail officers in Morong 43 visit

A group of cultural workers and artists set to give arts workshop to political detainees in Camp Bagong Diwa cry foul over the treament they received from jail officers. Last October 2, 2010, eight memebrs of the artist organization ARTISTS’ ARREST went to said detention facility to conduct visual arts and poetry writing workshops for political detainees like the Morong 43 as part of the program “Sining Mula Sa Karsel” (Art from Prison).

Upon request of jail officers, the group, accompanied by representatives of human rights group DEFEND-ST (Committee to Defend Victims of Political Persecution in Southern Tagalog), immediately submitted themselves for inspection and presented the letter of request for said activity approved by the NCR regional director of the Bureau of Jail Management of Penology which has authority over Camp Bagong Diwa. They were, however, immediately disappointed when a jail officer who did not identify himself told them the activity can’t push through. Asked for the reason, the jail officer simply told them that the activity was not properly coordinated to them.

Dianne Mariano of DEFEND-ST argued that that they have done all the procedural requirements and that the jail officer’s reason was unacceptable. “They can’t just tell us that they don’t know abut this activity and send us home because we have diligently fulfilled all requirements and we have official permission,” Mariano said in Filipino. At this point, the jail officers had also started taking pictures of individual members of the group and interrogated them. The jail officers repeatedly asked them about their personal circumstances. The jail officer also took their IDs and had it scanned.

After 5 hours of negotiation, the group was finally let to proceed. However, only the visual arts workshop was allowed to be conducted within a period of one hour and not 5 hours as originally approved in the request. Furthermore, only male members of the Morong 43 were allowed to join the workshop. During the session, a person who identified himself as Jorge Joseph continuously took pictures of the group.

For the poetry workshop, the jail officers instructed the group to simply give the materials to female members of Morong 43. But upon inspection of the materials, the deputy warden ordered its confiscation, saying the handouts are “subversive.” The deputy warden in particular identified a poem by University of the Philippine professor and literary artist Gelacio Guillermo entitled Kokak. Written in Kapampangan, the poem contains the names of a progressive party list representative and that of Gloria Arroyo.

The group later found out that the jail officer who harassed them was Deputy Jail Warden Mutya.

The group will return to Camp Bagong Diwa on October 7,2010 to conduct the workshop with the female members of Morong 43. Teta Tulay of ARTISTS’ ARREST expressed her concern over the possible indication and ramification of this incident. “If they can harass innocent civilians when they visit, I can only imagine how much more harassment they can inflict on the detainees,” Tulay said.

According to Tulay, Sining mula sa Karsel aims to provide alternative venues of expression to people like members of the Morong 43 whose basic civil liberties had been hijacked by the state. They said that through activities like this, the detainees are able to assert and partially reclaim their civil and political rights.

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