Political prisoners on hunger strike; fellow inmates shave head, wear henna tattoo to show support

Political prisoner Charity Diño being tattooed with henna by fellow inmate. Photo courtesy of Karapatan-Batangas

Batangas City – Showing their support for seven political prisoners who went on hunger strike last Saturday, fellow inmates in the Batangas Provincial Jail shaved their heads and wore a henna tattoo with the slogan “Free the Batangas 7.” A total of 30 inmates had their head shaved while 60 had a henna tattoo.

The political prisoners, who collectively call themselves the “Batangas 7,” assert that they are activists being charged with fabricated criminal cases and maliciously tagged by the government as communist guerillas. They went on hunger strike along with other political detainees from other provinces of the Southern Tagalog region, Eastern Visayas, Compostella Valley, Southern Mindanao region, as well as in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City, to call for the release of all political prisoners in the country through general, unconditional, omnibus amnesty.

According to Karapatan-Southern Tagalog (Karapatan-ST) Secretary General Glen Malabanan, there are a total of 356 documented political prisoners in the country in which most were arrested during the the Arroyo administration.

Inside the Batangas Provincial Jail. Photo courtesy of Karapatan-Batangas

“Most of the political prisoners are activists who fell victim to state repression. The government does not even consider them to be political prisoners and has instead filed trumped-up criminal charges against them. Most, if not all, of the political prisoners were also illegally arrested,” Malabanan said.

The Batangas 7 are: Maricon Montajes, a 21 year old Masscom student of UP Diliman, youth activists Rommel Cañete and Ronilo Baez – the three are also known as the “Taysan 3”; community organizers of provincial peasant group SAMBAT Charity Diño, Billy Batrina, and Sonny Rogelio, also known as the “Talisay 3”; and Albert Custudio, former secretary general of SAMBAT who was arrested last July 16 of this year.

The hunger strike was also launched as part of the International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War, an annual occasion initiated by the International League of Peoples’ Struggles (ILPS). The ILPS is a formation of more than 300 organizations from all-over the world that promote anti-imperialist and democratic struggles.

Photo courtesy of Karapatan-Batangas

Among the other demands of the hunger strike are:

– Regular Medical Check-ups from doctors preferred by the political prisoners, at least once a month or whenever necessary;

– To allow the prisoners regular daily physical exercise;

– Immediate release for political prisoners who are 60 years old and above and for those with acute disease;

– Higher budget for prison services and allow political prisoners to decide its allocation based on their basic needs;

– Removal of unnecessary restrictions on the visits of families including strip search;

– Transfer of all political prisoners detained in military camps to the PNP custody;

– Immediate release for political prisoners protected by the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) as part of the ongoing peace process between the GPH and the NDFP.

Malabanan said that they demand that the current administration immediately release all the political prisoners and put a stop to state repression, “otherwise he really is no different from Mrs. Arroyo.”

“Even under the current administration of Noynoy Aquino, political repression continue to be a state policy under the counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan. THere a total of 78 political prisoners arrested since Mr. Aquino took office,” she added.

Family and friends outside the jail show support. Photo courtesy of Karapatan- Batangas

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