Human rights organizations urged the government on Tuesday to include elderly and ailing political prisoners among those being contemplated for release during the visit of Pope Francis.
January 13, 2015 12:11 PM
MANILA, Philippines — Human rights organizations urged the government on Tuesday to include elderly and ailing political prisoners among those being contemplated for release during the visit of Pope Francis.
“This is no time to deny the existence of political prisoners in the country. Political prisoners, especially the elderly and the ailing, should be included in the releases during the papal visit,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said in a statement.
Palabay said of the 491 political prisoners in the country, “there are 53 ailing and 42 elderly.”
She added that three political prisoners have already died of illness since President Benigno Aquino III came to office: Crisanto Fat in 2011), Allison Alcantara in 2013) and Benny Barid last year.
She also cited the death of Diona, the newborn infant of Andrea Rosal, daughter of the late Communist Party of the Philippines spokesman Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal. Andrea, who was seven months pregnant when arrested early last year, said the conditions of her detention were partly to blame for her child’s death soon after being born.
Among those Karapatan wants freed are Gerardo dela Peña, 75, who was arrested in March 2013 in Camarines Norte by the 49th Infantry Battalion and was convicted on what the rights organization called “false charges of murder at the age of 74,” and Jesus Alegre, 70, and his wife Moreta, 68, of Negros Occidental, both 65 and jailed for more than 10 years since they were arrested with their son Selman, now 40.
InterAksyon.com recently featured dela Peña and his letter to Pope Francis. (Read about him here: http://www.interaksyon.com/article/102741/jailed-political-activist-seeks-papal-succor)
The Alegre couple and their son have also written a letter to the Pope saying: “Your visit to the Philippines brings a ray of hope to people like us who have experienced wanton injustice. Our family has suffered so much. My son was killed and my wife, my other son, Selman, and I have been languishing in jails for the past 10 years for (an) offense we never committed. We are just simple people striving to live decently until the powerful leader in our town took interest in the piece of land we are tilling and did everything to get rid of us. My wife and I are old and ailing. We just want to see our children and grandchildren once more before we die.”
Jesus and Selman are both jailed at the National Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City while Moreta is at the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City.
According to the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto, a support group for political prisoners, the Alegres woes began in the early 1990s when a landlord in their native Sagay City grabbed their land. When they filed a complaint, the landlord’s goons attacked them, killing Jesus and Moreta’s son Romeo.
They continued to resist and in 2001, the goons fenced off their land. Soon after, unidentified gunmen engaged the goons in a firefight, killing Rogelio Tipon. The Alegre couple and Selman were charged for this and, despite an affidavit of desistance from Tipon’s widow, were sentenced to life in 2005.
Selda said Jesus and Moreta are both suffering arthritis and hypertension. Moreta is also suffering chest pains. Selman, on the other hand, has not seen his wife and children since he was jailed.
“We are suffering for sins we did not commit. Is it because we do not have money and power? We only want to live simply, to till our small piece of land so we can live. Where is justice? We lost our son, Romeo, in defending that small piece of land. Our family just cried in silence. I know this was their way to get rid of us from that small piece of land. To them, my son’s death was not enough. They wanted our whole family in prison,” Jesus said.
Palabay said political prisoners “should not be in jail in the. No one should be imprisoned because of their political beliefs and actions.”