On the International Day of Action for Women’s Health, Gantala Press calls for action and support of the millions of Filipino women who continue to suffer from disproportionate gendered impacts of the ongoing health crisis, particularly on the most vulnerable sectors of the population, including women political prisoners.
The Philippines is ranked Number 2 in the World Prison Brief (WPB), with the most congested penal system in the world at 463.6% occupancy. Detention centers for women are far more populated than that of their male counterparts and lack basic essential healthcare resources. The majority of jailed women are also mothers.
The devastating conditions in correctional facilities in the Philippines are particularly detrimental to elderly, sick, pregnant, and disabled inmates. In 2020, Adelaida Macusang, a 61-year-old peasant leader of the Montevista Farmer Association in Davao, died from cardiac arrest and kidney failure in prison after being arrested on false charges in 2018. In 2019, Ma. Lindy Perocho and Imelda Sultan of the National Federation of Sugar Workers were arrested, also on trumped up charges, and detained in Escalante Jail. Now, Perocho, 55, is in dire need of urgent medical attention because of her heart and kidney problems that have worsened during her incarceration. Peasant leader Marcela Diaz, 59, of Surigao del Sur was able to post bail for trumped up charges of Robbery and Multiple Attempted Homicide, money that could have gone to her treatment as a cancer patient.
(Just this May, peasant leader Joseph Canlas died after jail authorities ignored his request for medical attention. It was later discovered that Canlas contracted COVID-19 while detained in the Angeles City Jail on fabricated charges.)
A staggering 63 of the 80 peasant women political prisoners were jailed under Duterte. This tactic is part of the government’s multibillion-peso “anti-communist” crackdown, which harasses and red-tags, imprisons, and kills activists and organizers.
Meanwhile, prisons in the Philippines have no universal maternal care system. The Department of Health has named pregnant women as the most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus yet prisoners who are also pregnant are forced into crowded jails with little to no protection and support provided. Newborn infants are forcibly separated from their detained mothers, leading to the deaths of Baby River Nasino and Baby Carlen Espinosa in 2020. These rampant violations of basic human rights, and of key components in the 2010 United Nations resolution on the rights of women prisoners (The Bangkok Rules), are not only dangerous to the physical health of women political prisoners and their families, but their emotional and psychological well-being.
Gantala Press calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all women political prisoners. We call for the defunding of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the rechanneling of its funds to securing free mass testing, vaccination, and proper healthcare for the Filipino people, among other more urgent, important, and vital needs in this crisis.