De Lima welcomes re-launch of rights group ‘Kapatid’ to free political prisoners

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has welcomed the recent move by human rights advocates in re-launching the “Kapatid,” a human rights group created to work towards attaining freedom for political prisoners and gather the broad support for them.

De Lima, the first prominent political prisoner under the Duterte regime, said the revival of the Martial Law-era group can add more pressure on authorities to end oppression on individuals who openly express dissent while fighting for worthy causes.

“Halatang-halata ang pagkakatulad ni Duterte kay Marcos. Parehong abusado sa kapangyarihan at parehong ginipit, kung hindi man ipinakulong, ang sinumang sumalungat sa kanila,” she said.

“During these times when the government tries to kill democracy by silencing dissent, the revival of Kapatid group will give human rights workers renewed determination to fight for the welfare of political prisoners who were detained simply because they fought for worthy causes,” she added.

Last June 15, Kapatid called for the immediate release of political prisoners on legal and humanitarian grounds, including those suffering from a medical condition and those who are long overdue for parole, pardon, or commutation of sentence.

Aside from working for the immediate release of all political prisoners, Kapatid was revived to promote basic rights and welfare, inclusive of legal assistance, to build support through constant information, and to reform laws that violate human rights.

Formed in 1978, Kapatid was first organized as a response to the crackdown of political activists during Martial Law. Its revival came as human rights group Karapatan noted more than 500 political prisoners under the Duterte administration.

Amid the upward trend of jailing government critics, the lady Senator from Bicol urged the Filipino public to continue fighting oppressive leaders and not allow someone like Mr. Duterte to undermine democratic values and silence dissent.

“Intimidating leaders who fight for the common good is a tactic of politicians like Duterte who aim to disarm dissent and eventually strengthen their political machinery,” she said.

“In the Philippines, we are witnessing the gradual death of democracy and end of human rights. But instead of dampening our spirit, this reality should prompt us to unwaveringly fight for human rights and defy authoritarian leaders like Duterte,” she added.

As then neophyte senator, De Lima earned Mr. Duterte’s ire when she initiated in July 2016 a Senate investigation into the unabated spate of extrajudicial and summary killings in the government’s brutal war on drugs.

Prior to this, De Lima also exposed Duterte’s involvement in the vigilante group, popularly known as the “Davao Death Squad,” during her term as chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights.

“It is no secret that my political persecution and unjust detention are attributed to my vigorous and relentless criticism of Duterte’s bloody war on drugs and other anti-human rights policies,” said the former justice secretary. In the coming 18th Congress, De Lima vowed to refile Senate Bill No. 1699, or the “Human Rights Defender’s Bill,” which is the House counterpart measure that has been gathering dust at the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights since 2018.

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