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Daughter of torture victim writes about her ailing father

PHILIPPINES: Daughter of rearrested and falsely charged torture victim writes about her ailing father

(Hong Kong, September 6, 2013) Sylvia Patricia Sarmiento, daughter of torture victim Aristedes Sarmiento, writes about her father, and how she and her family, have struggled because of her father's torture and repeated arrest and detention on false charges. She wrote this in an article which she shared with the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Sylvia, now a law student, is no stranger to jails and detention centres. In fact, she herself was born in jail when Aristedes and his wife, Laura, were arrested for opposing Marcos' dictatorial rule in 1982. At that time, her parents organized coconut farmers to challenge the Coco Levy Fund, a fund illegally collected by imposing tax on coconut farmers. The fund was exploited by the Marcos cronies in the 70s and 80s.

Aristedes and his wife, Laura, in 2008. Photo: Workers' Assistance Center (WAC).

Aristedes has devoted most of his adult life in support of the coconut farmers. "His study and commitment in reclaiming the coco levy fund, which is rightfully owned by small coconut farmers, made him become an easy target and prey to the government's campaign of repression," Sylvia added.

During Marcos' time, Sylvia's parents were detained for a crime of subversion, a criminal offence that Marcos used to suppress dissent. They are one of those hundreds of Filipinos imprisoned for challenging the repressive rule and corrupt policies of Marcos.

After Sylvia was born in jail, her mother, Laura, was released from jail. "My mother was released after 5 months for humanitarian reasons because she gave birth to me a month after her arrest," Sylvia writes. Her father, Aristedes, was released after nearly two years in jail because of Marcos' draconian policies, the Presidential Commitment Order.

For decades, Aristedes committed himself in helping the coconut famers reclaim the taxes illegally collected from them by way of Coco Levy Fund.

But in April 2006, Aristedes was again arrested with four other persons. For details: UA-143-2006. He was arrested on charges that he and four of his co-accused were plotting to bring down the government of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Aristedes and his four co-accuse disappeared for days after their arrest, they were held incommunicado and were tortured in secret detention cells.

After two years, they were released from jail when the court exonerated them from the allegations of rebellion the police and soldiers had filed. In July 2008, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) concluded they had been tortured, and provided them financial assistance; however, no compensation was given to them for the torture and detention that they have suffered. None of their torturers were punished.

After Aristedes's release from jail in August 2008, he was diagnosed to have suffered illness affecting his arms and his back resulting from his two years in jail, and from the torture he suffered. His release was not to be his last.

In July 16, 2013, Aristedes was arrested again based on fabricated charges of murder. He is accused as one of those who had killed a policeman on January 30, 2011 in Atimonan, Quezon. For details: AHRC-STM-164-2013. More than 50 heavily armed police and soldiers arrested him in Lucban, Quezon where he was doing community work.

After Aristedes' release in 2008, he has since been working as a freelance political and agricultural consultant for various non-governmental organizations (NGOs), farmers' organization, and also politicians. Therefore, because of the nature of his work and the frailness of his body due to illness, it could not have been possible for him to be involved in perpetrating ambuscades.

In her appeal Sylvia calls for the release of her father: "For 31 years, our family has been and still is a victim of this oppressive system. We condemn this harassment by the State once again brought upon us. My entire family, together with the masses, call for the immediate release of my father."

The AHRC is publishing the full text of Sylvia's article below.

-----------

The struggle through time

"Individual freedom is too basic, too transcendental and vital in a republican state, like ours, to be denied upon mere general principles and abstract considerations of public safety." Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion

On October 9, 1982, at the height of the human rights violations during martial law, my parents, Aris and Laura Sarmiento, were arrested by armed men from the 232nd Philippine Constabulary for the alleged crime of subversion. They were active in organizing coconut farmers due to the oppressive and controversial Coco Levy Fund. My mother was released after 5 months for humanitarian reasons because she gave birth to me a month after her arrest. It was on March 15, 1984 when the said case was dismissed by the Gumaca Regional Trial Court (RTC) through the late Judge Andres C Regalado. However, my father was released from detention only on July 11, 1984 because my parents slapped with a Presidential Commitment Order (PCO).

On April 28, 2006, my father, together with 4 other colleagues, was abducted by more than 60 heavily armed elements of Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and held incommunicado for 7 days in various military camps and safe-houses. They were collectively known as the Tagaytay 5 and were wrongfully charged with the crime of rebellion. My father was a freelance political and agricultural consultant for various Non-Government Organization (NGOs), farmers' organization and politicians. After our battles in and out of the court, the said case was dismissed 2 years and 4 months later.

Upon release, he was diagnosed with maladies that affected his arms and back which sustained during his 2-year incarceration and torture in 2006 – 2008. He constantly needs medication and therapy to lessen his pain and to keep him productive.

On July 16, 2013, his productive development work was once again rudely interrupted when he was arrested by more than 50 armed men of the PNP and AFP in Lucban, Quezon. My father is serving as development consultant to various local government officials to be able to provide for our family and to sustain the medication for his illness. He is now charged with Murder at the Regional Trial Court of Gumaca, Branch 62 in Quezon Province. The state uses this crime to connect him again to the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army. He has become the veritable visible suspect. Since the day of his arrest, he has been brought to 4 different detention centers already, namely Lucban Police Station in Quezon, Camp Vicente Lim in Canlubang, Laguna, Quezon District Jail in Lucena City, Quezon and finally, Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig.

Social injustice still prevails and the struggle against it continues. When the State runs counter to the doctrine of Salus Populi Est Suprema Lex (the welfare of the people is the supreme law), the social obligation to resist arises. His study and commitment in reclaiming the coco levy fund, which is rightfully owned by small coconut farmers, from the hands of Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr. and his nephew Benigno Aquino III made my father target and easy prey to the government's campaign of repression. Even with his illnesses, my father stands against suppression, harassment and human rights violations being done by the element to the State to the poor people of this country.

We urge the President, Benigno Aquino III, to effect the immediate release of Aris Sarmiento as well as the other political detainees. As the son of the martial law regime's foremost political detainee, he must have known and felt the hardship that this traumatic experience brings on the detainee and the family.

The time is indeed testing us. For 31 years, our family has been and still is a victim of this oppressive system, thus we condemn this harassment that the State once again brought upon us. My entire family, together with the masses, call for the immediate release of my father. And united with the families of the other political detainees, we insist for the freedom of all political prisoners!
ends

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