The US colonial-era Executive Order No. 65 s. 1945, signed by President Sergio Osmena, was the first to officially use the term “political prisoners” to mean prisoners accused of crime against national security. In using this narrow definition, BuCor reported 55 political prisoners in its facilities as of August 2020. The BJMP, meanwhile, does not collect data on political prisoners.

But political prisoner is a term that has generally meant individuals detained or incarcerated by the state because of their political beliefs that usually ran counter to the status quo defended by that state. 

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), in October 2012, came up with concrete criteria on who is considered a political prisoner. To be called a political prisoner, one has to meet any of the following criteria:

• the detention violates basic guarantees in the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; freedom of expression and information; and freedom of assembly and association;

• the detention is imposed for purely political reasons;

• the length or conditions of detention are out of proportion to the offense; 

• he or she is detained in a discriminatory manner as compared to other persons; and

• the detention is the result of judicial proceedings that are clearly unfair and connected with the political motives of authorities. 


According to human rights group Karapatan, there are 703 political prisoners in the country, as of March 2021. A total of 96 of these are sick, 65 are elderly, and six are minors.

Meanwhile, the international human rights organization Amnesty International has used the term “prisoner of conscience” to refer to political prisoners. It defines the term as “someone who has not used or advocated violence or hatred but is imprisoned because of who they are (sexual orientation, ethnic, national or social origin, language, birth, color, sex or economic status) or what they believe (religious, political or other conscientiously held beliefs).”


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