Itaas walks free after 32 years

PH’s longest held political prisoner asks government to leave him in peace

Human rights group Kapatid announced the release of the country’s longest held political detainee at 32 years, urging the government to now “let him live a peaceful life with his family.”

Juanito Itaas, convicted of killing United States Colonel James Rowe in Quezon City on April 1989, was finally released from the New Bilibid Prison on Friday night, January 8, the group said.

Kapatid said Branch 204 of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court granted the petition for habeas corpus filed by Itaas’ daughter Jarel and ordered his release, saying he already completed the service of his sentence through the Good Conduct Time Allowance Law.

Itaas was “entitled to be credited the equivalent days of the GCTA credits earned by him,” Kapatid quoted the Court as having ordered.

He was sentenced in 1991 to 39 years and 6 months of imprisonment.

Itaas was convicted as the principal in Rowe’s ambush along with University of the Philippines worker Donato Continente who was convicted as his accomplice.

Itaas and Continente were among the most celebrated political detainees under the Corazon Aquino government.

The two have maintained their innocence to this day. Continente was released in 2005.

A former Davao farmer, Kapatid said Itaas was wrongfully convicted.

The NPA took responsibility for the assassination and said those arrested and convicted were innocent, including Itaas and Continente.

Rowe was chief of the Joint United States Military Advisory Group working closely with the Central Intelligence Agency in helping the Philippine government in its counter-insurgency operations against the New People’s Army (NPA).

Kapatid commended Itaas’ release, adding it hopes it will presage more releases of political prisoners “who are foisted with trumped-up charges in retaliation for their activism or to make them the fall guy to take the blame for NPA operations.”

The group also said that Itaas hopes to be with his family he built while in jail.

“Pahinga muna ako. Gusto ko makapiling ang pamilya ko kasi ngayon lang kami mabubuo,” Kapatid quoting Itaas as saying. (I want to take a rest. I wish to spend time with my family as it will be the first time that we are together.) # (Raymund B. Villanueva)