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Families of political prisoners in Philippines appeal for compassion on Virgin’s feast day

Families and friends of political prisoners tied “Marian ribbons” outside the Supreme Court building in Manila to dramatize their appeal for compassion for their loved ones on Sept. 8, feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Catholic observance is popular in the Philippines, a predominantly Christian nation that will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the faith in the country next year.

In August 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte signed a law declaring Sept. 8 a “special working holiday” in the entire country to commemorate the feast.




The protesters said the demonstration on Sept. 8 is a “reminder” of their petition for humanitarian release before the Supreme Court that was filed five months ago.

“We’d like to think and hope that it’s no coincidence that the Supreme Court en banc session coincides with the birthday of Mama Mary today,” said Fides Lim of the group Kapatid, an organization of families and friends of political detainees.

“We pray that [the Virgin Mary] will be able to guide our magistrates to finally issue a decision marked by compassion, charity, humility and justness, [the Virgin Mary’s] undying virtues that define humanity,” said Lim.

There are at least 609 political prisoners currently detained in various jails across the country, at least 63 of whom are considered sickly while 47 are elderly.

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The group also lit black candles to symbolize the “agony of waiting and the miscarriage of justice” while the blue ribbons tied with candles “hearken to the Marian color of hope and compassion.”

“We ask the justices to look at prisoners as part of humanity who deserve a chance to survive,” said Lim.

Kapatid has been appealing to the Supreme Court since April for the release elderly, sick, and pregnant political prisoners as cases of the new coronavirus disease went up.

Activist Reina Mae Nasino has been appealing to be released since early this year to be able to give birth safely outside the detention center.

Her petition remains pending before the court even after she gave birth on July 1 and was forced to be separated from her baby who was sent home to Nasino’s parents.

On Sept. 8, Nasino’s mother, Marites Asis, carried a picture of her detained daughter and her baby with an appeal to Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta to “take pity on the mother and child.”

Also on Sept. 8, human rights and activist groups lambasted Duterte for granting pardon to a convicted US Marine who killed a 26-year-old transgender woman in 2014.

In a statement, Kapatid said that while prisoners at risk from COVID-19 “sit with the worst fears,” the president “overturned the justice system … against the entire Filipino people.”

“Where is justice when a US soldier convicted of homicide … was granted absolute pardon while hundreds of incarcerated Filipinos languish in prisons because of fabricated and baseless charges meant to silence them from speaking against government injustices,” said Lim.

Lim is the wife of Vicente Ladlad, a political prisoner who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and is at high risk of contracting COVID-19 inside the detention center.

In a separate statement, a group of former political prisoners also called on the Supreme Court to immediately act on the petition of the families of the political prisoners.

“We can’t help but to see the High Court’s inaction as extremely inhumane and palpable neglect of duty,” said Danilo dela Fuente, the group’s spokesman.

In March this year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged governments around the world “not to forget those behind bars” in their overall efforts to contain the pandemic.

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