Satur Ocampo is 77 years old. With a contingent from Bayan Muna, Ka Satur, as he is revered by activists old and young, joined the hunger strike and fasting campaign for the release of political prisoners led by Karapatan and Selda. For a few hours, he abstained from food whilst in the fasting center in front of the Mendiola Peace Arch.

Asked why he would still join such campaign in his age, he said it was a natural thing for him to do.

“I know how the political prisoners feel. I went through the same ordeal 30 years ago,” shared Ka Satur.

He turned out to be hunger strike veteran as well.

“During Martial Law, when we were detained in Bicutan Rehabilitation Center, now Camp Bagong Diwa, we went on hunger strike five times. The longest one we held for 21 days too long,” shared Ka Satur.

He said the government should not feel slighted that the political prisoners would have to protest.

“The demands are always just. Depriving oneself of food is also a true sacrifice,” said Ka Satur.

Ka Satur Ocampo joins the fasting at Mendiola on December 9, 2016 to call for the immediate release of political prisoners. (Manila Today)
Ka Satur Ocampo joins the fasting at Mendiola on December 9, 2016 to call for the immediate release of political prisoners. (Manila Today)

This was in response to the statement of Presidential Adviser to the Peace Process Jesus Dureza on the release of political prisoners that “putting undue public pressure on the government which has already taken unprecedented steps may not yield their intended results.”

“The hunger strike has always been an effective pressure tactic. If the workers have their strike, the political prisoners have their hunger strike. The only thing they can do in incarceration is to deprive themselves of what little provisions they have. It was to spotlight the uncaring nature of their jailers and the government has always felt ashamed to be exposed as inhumane in this case,” Ka Satur imparted the lessons, even laughing somewhat at the memory of a brazen 21-day hunger strike.

He was only in his thirties when he joined these hunger strikes. He said hunger strikes should not be carried out too long for in extreme cases could affect the mental health of those who partook in it.

“Before, we were arrested and detained for a long time even without formal charges filed against us. Nowadays, activists are detained and charged with fabricated cases that prolong their detention. They are wrongly detained, falsely charged. The political prisoners today suffer double the injustice,” Ka Satur mused.

As of October 31 this year, Karapatan lists 401 political prisoners in the country. Of the number, 130 are sickly, 33 are elderly, and 33 are women.

“From the presidency of Cory Aquino, administrations have practiced the criminalization of political offenses, which violates the Hernandez Doctrine. My wife and I were among the first hit by such practice. We were in litigation for three years, until the charges of murder, kidnapping and illegal possession of firearms against us were dismissed for lack of basis,” recalled Ka Satur.

The Hernandez Doctrine came from Supreme Court decision in the case People vs. Amado Hernandez that ruled that rebellion cannot be complexed with other crimes, such as murder and arson and that rebellion in itself would include and absorb the said crimes, thus granting the accused the right to bail. Labor leader Hernandez, who would later be named National Artist for Literature by the Philippine government, was acquitted by the Supreme Court in 1964.

“Because of that case, our counsel then Atty. Romeo Capulong who also became a consultant for the NDFP [National Democratic Front of the Philippines] in the peace negotiations, they made the Philippine government commit to upholding the Hernandez Doctrine in the CARHRIHL, to from time to time review the record of the political prisoners and all those arrested and detained in violation of Hernandez Doctrine be freed. This is one positive outcome of our struggle,” shared Ka Satur.

The Comprehensive Agreement for the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) was signed in 1998, drafted under the administration of Fidel Ramos and signed when Joseph Estrada has just assumed presidency. This is the first of four substantive agenda that have reached an agreement in the peace talks between the government of the Philippines (GRP) and the NDFP.

“The Duterte government has reaffirmed CARHRIHL. But they are too slow in the issue of the release of political prisoners, which made another hunger strike and the fasting an imperative,” stressed Ka Satur.

Late in the afternoon, the participants of the fasting take on the social media trend #MannequinChallenge, a symbol they say of the government’s immobility in their promise of justice by releasing political prisoners. Ka Satur then spoke before passersby in Mendiola relaying his Martial Law experience and encouraging people to stand up against the return of “Marcosian policies.”

After addressing protesters and onlookers, Ka Satur exclaimed, “I am still a political prisoner.”

Ka Satur, then-Bayan Muna Representative, along with four representatives from Bayan Muna, Gabriela and Anakpawis were charged with rebellion in 2006, under the administration of Gloria Arroyo and during a time of great political turmoil and people’s disgust for the administration. The House of Representatives took custody of the five. The case is still on trial. He was only out on bail.

“I am 77. I should have been exempt from answering to these made up charges. Yet I continue to attend these hearings and still avail myself of no justice in the legal system. Government violates their own laws,” said Ka Satur.

Ka Satur lamented how many of the political prisoners are accused as members or supporters of the New People’s Army or the NDFP, but they would not be charged with rebellion or sedition. They would be charged with common crimes or heinous crimes, ranging from illegal possession of firearms to multiple cases of murder.

“Our lawyers said the underlying motive of the government is to project the political activists as criminals. Layers and layers of injustice,” said Ka Satur.

The NDFP has criticized the government for “using the political prisoners as trump cards in the peace talks for achieving a bilateral ceasefire that may redound to eventual capitulation.”

“One big achievement of the peace talks is the CARHRIHL and now the Duterte government has reaffirmed this agreement. Now, the NDF can look into these abuses and work for the release of those wrongly-detained,” said Ka Satur, also a cooperator in the peace talks between the NDFP and the GRP.

Before leaving the fasting center at nighttime, he approached each person or group, that time mostly young activists from Anakbayan and National Union of Students of the Philippines Metro Manila, in the fasting tent to bid his goodbyes. He is probably oblivious to the esteem in which the younger activists hold him for all his years of steadfast struggle.

The fight for justice may be long, tiresome and hungering, but as in the case of Ka Satur, victorious and strong when unwavering.


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