Oldest political prisoner freed; home-bound to give waiting wife a kiss

By Nuel M. Bacarra

The country’s oldest political prisoner, Gerardo dela Peña, 85, walked free Sunday night from the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City after more than a decade of imprisonment.

A former head of the the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensiyon at Aresto (SELDA)- Camarines Norte chapter, Dela Peña was arrested on March 21, 2013 by elements of the 49th Infantry Battalion in Brgy. Matango in Vinzons, Camarines Norte and convicted at age 75 for a murder case.

Political prisoner support group Kapatid however said dela Peña’s conviction for allegedly killing his own nephew was wrong as the New People’s Army admitted to the act.

Gerardo dela Peña walks free from the National Bilibid Prison after ‘wrongful arrest and conviction.’ (Kapatid photo)

Thin and frail, he carried a small bag containing his meager possessions and the Certificate of Discharge from Prison issued by the Bureau of Corrections last June 29.

Accompanied by Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim, dela Peña’s son Melchor fetched his father from the NBP after travelling 12 hours from their home province.

In a statement today, Lim said: “Tatay Gerry’s journey to freedom was very difficult because of systematic challenges and bureaucratic delays. Being more than 80 years old and sickly, Tatay Gerry is over qualified to avail of humanitarian basis for release.”

Lim added it is concerning why the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) could not immediately implement its own Board Resolution Number OT-08-02-2023 allowing executive clemency for prisoners who have reached 70 years old and served ten years of their sentence.

“The fact is, Tatay Gerry had already over-served his commutated sentence, serving exactly 12 years and two months as of June 12, aside from the good conduct time allowance he accrued. Every additional minute behind bars is a gross injustice for an innocent man,” Lim said.

The Commission on Human Rights on May 24 also reminded the government earlier of its duty to implement the Mandela Rules sick and elderly prisoners.

Already hard of hearing, Tatay Gerry also suffers from impaired vision, diabetes and hypertension. While in jail, he also suffered a stroke.

Defective judicial system

The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said dela Peña’s arrest, conviction and decade-long imprisonment were the result of the country’s defective judicial system.

“If there was any proof, I don’t think it was sufficient because somebody else did it and somebody else admitted doing it. It should have mattered to look for that angle,” Atty. Ephraim Cortez, NUPL president, said.

“The fact that somebody else claimed having done it, it is already a reasonable doubt,” he explained.

Karapatan deputy secretary general Roneo Clamor gives newly-freed political detainee Gerardo dela Peña his portrait. (N. Bacarra/Kodao)

In a celebratory gathering for dela Peña Monday afternoon, he said he was very excited to go home to his family and to again work their farm in Camarines Norte.

“Ay, masaya syempre. Hindi na kayang sabihin ang kasayahan ko. Ang kasayahan ko ay pantay langit na,” he exclaimed. (Happy of course. No words can describe my happiness. My happiness is sky high.)

He added he looks forward to seeing his wife Pilar and to give her a kiss.

Dela Peña said he is grateful to Lim and Kapatid, his lawyers, SELDA and Karapatan and other organizations who worked for his release, including Makabayan representatives Arlene Brosas, France Castro and Raoul Manuel.

He also said he hopes for the freedom of all other political prisoners, especially the sick and elderly.

Dela Peña’s son Melchor for his part said: “Pakiramdam namin, may nadagdag sa buhay namin. Masaya kami dahil ‘yung pamilya namin ay nag-aabang doon.” (We feel our lives have been enhanced. We are happy as our family waits for us arrival.)

“Hindi kami nag-i-expect na makalabas pa siya. Sabi naming, wala na. Buti na lang may tumulong sa amin,” he added (We didn’t expect him to be free. We gave up. Luckily, there were those who helped us.)

Father and son are bound for Camarines Norte today. #