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KAPATID: ‘Jun Lozada should be regarded as a political prisoner’

Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada Jr should be regarded as a political prisoner, human rights group Kapatid said, adding the whistleblower has done great service to the people and does not deserve to be in jail.

Kapatid said the Supreme Court’s decision finding Rodolfo and brother Orlando guilty of graft is a “travesty of justice” that sends the wrong signal to whistleblowers.

The High Court upheld Rodolfo’s graft conviction last week for leasing 6.6 hectares of idle public land to his brother Orlando and sentenced the siblings to six to 10 years of imprisonment and perpetual disqualification from public office.

Kapatid, the support group of families and friends of political prisoners, however said the Supreme Court should reverse its decision as Rodolfo deserves the protection of the law for reporting evidence of wrongdoing.

“Thanks to Jun Lozada’s courage [a] scandalous megadeal was cancelled. But because of the rotten double standard of justice in the Philippines, he is the one who will go to prison while the biggest masterminds of graft and corruption are exculpated and allowed to perpetuate themselves in public office,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said.

Lim added that Rodolfo has become a victim of retaliation and persecution by powerful enemies who have in effect made him a political prisoner for speaking truth to power.

Rodolfo was former head of the Philippine Forest Corporation and a government information technology consultant when he revealed alleged anomalies in the establishment of a National Broadband Network (NBN) by the Chinese corporation ZTE in 2007 during the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government.

Lozada said President Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband Miguel were “masterminds behind the NBN-ZTE crime” worth P17 billion of pesos. He also said former Commission on Election chairperson Benjamin Abalos stood to gain from kickbacks.

The Lozadas turned themselves in at the National Bureau of Investigation last Thursday after hearing the Sandiganbayan reportedly issued a warrant of arrest against them following Supreme Court’s affirmation of their conviction.

In a statement, Rodolfo said his enemies made good with their threats they will make him regret for his revelations.

“Yes, they succeeded in sending me to prison. But they will not succeed in making me regret my decision to side with the truth and the people. I do not regret my decision to side with the truth,” Rodolfo said.

“Our hearts go out to truth-tellers like Jun Lozada. Kapatid stands by him and with him in his statement that embodies the plight of the political prisoners in this country,” Kapatid said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Karapatan lauds affirmation of Palparan’s conviction

Human rights group Karapatan welcomed the affirmation of retired Major General Jovito Palparan’s conviction for the kidnapping of University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno by the Court of Appeals last Tuesday.

“This recent legal victory affirms the need to pursue justice and accountability through and through — despite threats, harassment, reprisals, and patronage by those in power of these human rights violators,” the group in a statement said.

In a decision promulgated last May 31 by Court of Appeals (CA) First Division, the appellate court said Palparan and cohorts Lieutenant Colonel Felipe Anotado and Staff Sgt. Edgardo Osorio are sentenced to life imprisonment without eligibility of parole.

The three were also ordered to pay the families of the victims P300,000 in civil indemnity and moral damages, subject to six percent interest per year from the date of finality of the decision until full payment.

The CA affirmed Malolos Regional Trial Court Branch 15’s decision of September 2018 saying Palparan, Anotado and Osorio were responsible for the disappearance and serious illegal detention of the victims.

MUST READ: Abandoned Mount Samat Military Camp Yields Bones, Evidences, Quest for Justice Continues

Cadapan and Empeno remain missing to this day. Palparan meanwhile has started serving his 40-year imprisonment at the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa City.

Karapatan said the affirmation of Palparan’s conviction could not have been possible without the strength and perseverance of the victim’s parents and the witnesses, as well as their lawyers and various local and international support groups.

“Sadly, Karen and She, along with many other desaparecidos remain missing, and Palparan should be made to divulge their whereabouts. This struggle for justice is for them and many other victims of State terrorism,” Karapatan said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUJP demands arrest of media killing ‘mastermind’

Joel Reyes campaigning to reclaim Palawan governorship despite arrest warrant

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) called for the arrest of former Palawan governor Joel Reyes, alleged mastermind in the killing of Palawan broadcaster Gerry Ortega in 2011.

In a statement on Ortega’s 11th death anniversary on Monday, January 24, the NUJP said former Palawan governor Joel Reyes is campaigning to reclaim the top provincial post even as he remains a fugitive from law.

“[N]ot only is former governor Joel Reyes evading his warrant of arrest for Ortega’s killing, he is running for Palawan governor, according to news reports, and is campaigning while a subject of a manhunt,” the media group said.

Reyes and brother and former Coron mayor Mario fled the country in 2012 to evade arrest related to Ortega’s murder.

Both were arrested in Phuket, Thailand in September 2015 but were freed by the Court of Appeals (CA) in January 2018.

The appellate court however reversed itself and ordered the Regional Trial Court in Puerto Princesa to “issue a warrant of arrest against the petitioner (Joel) and to conduct proceedings in Criminal Case No. 26839 with purposeful dispatch” in November 2019.

“What is clear is that due to a Court of Appeals directive in 2019, the Regional Trial Court of Puerto Princesa had released an arrest warrant against him for [the] murder [of Ortega],” NUJP said.

Reyes is also facing separate graft charges over the alleged misuse of P1.5 billion in Malampaya funds.

Ortega, an environmentalist and known critic of the Reyeses, was the first media killing under the then Benigno Aquino government.

The broadcaster was shot in broad daylight in downtown Puerto Princesa City after leaving radio station DWAR.

The NUJP said the lack of justice over Ortega’s murder and Reyes’ bid for the governorship despite a graft conviction add to the impunity that has surrounded attacks against journalists as well as land and rights defenders.

READ: NUJP: Where is justice in Doc Gerry’s killing?

The group added the lack of justice in Ortega’s killing is emblematic of the culture of impunity in the Philippines, reminding them how the powerful seem to make a mockery of the justice system.

“We stand with the Ortega family, Doc Gerry’s colleagues and friends in the environmental movement and colleagues in the media in calling for justice and in demanding the service of the arrest warrant against Reyes,” NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Court dismisses ‘traveling skeleton’ cases against Leftists, civilians anew

A Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) dismissed charges against dozens of Leftists and civilians and ordered the release of the detained in the case involving the so-called “traveling skeletons” of Inopacan, Leyte.

In an order dated December 16, Manila RTC Branch 32 granted the demurrer separately filed by farmers Norberto Murillo, Dario Tomada and Oscar Belleza, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) announced.

Manila RTC Branch 32 presiding judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina ruled that the prosecution failed to prove the first element of murder, that is, the alleged 15 victims were actually killed and that the accused were actually involved in the alleged crime, the NUPL said.

“[The government]…failed to scientifically prove that the subject skeletal remains exhumed in Mt. Sapang Dako, Barangay Kaulisihan, Inopacan, Leyte on August 26-29, 2006 belong to the latter and [that]…the accounts of its eye-witnesses as regards how they were killed, who killed them and other surrounding circumstances behind their deaths are palpably unreliable,” it added.

The court reportedly noted the numerous infirmities in the testimonies of the prosecution’s witnesses who claimed to be former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and rebel returnees.

 [T]he Decision found “overwhelming contrarieties and infirmities in the testimonies of the prosecution’s witnesses,” the decision reportedly ruled.

The court also dismissed the cases of others “against whom the prosecution had already terminated the presentation of its evidence but who had not filed their Demurrer to Evidence,” including prominent Leftist leaders and peace negotiators.

‘Traveling skeletons’

In 2006, the government’s Inter-Agency Legal Action Group again filed multiple murder charges against 38 civilians as well as prominent Leftists, including National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison who was under maximum security detention of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship at the time of the alleged crime.

An earlier 2000 case was filed on the allegation that the 67 skeletal remains were of victims of a purge of NPA members carried out by the accused.

Human rights group Karapatan however pointed out in 2019 that the skeletons of three of the alleged victims in the 2000 case as well as other witnesses were “recycled” in the later Hilongos, Leyte trials.

Karapatan said the 2006 charges were simply a “remake of the story portrayed by the prosecution in Criminal Case No. 2001-6-51 before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), 8th Judicial Region, Baybay, Leyte which was dismissed by the said court.”

Sison in turn accused then Philippine Army commanding general, now national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., of collecting the bones from various cemeteries for his “legal offensive” against those opposing then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Other defendants questioned the articles of clothing presented during the hearings which still displayed vivid markings and colors.

“Those who have been to the mountains would know that clothes buried in the rainforest for more than 20 years would not appear like that. It should have completely decomposed by now,” accused Benito Tiamzon, NDFP negotiating panel member, told Bulatlat during a 2016 hearing.

Public Interest Law Center and National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers defense counsels with some of the accused and their supporters. (Photo from Atty. Kristina Conti/PILC-NUPL)

‘Christmas gift for peace consultants’

The Public Interest Law Center, co-defense counsels, said the Court’s decision is an early Christmas gift for the defendants.

“[We]…counsel for [co-accused] Saturnino Ocampo, Adelberto Silva, Rafael Baylosis, and the late Randall Echanis, (are) heartened by the ruling, which is tantamount to an acquittal, in one of the most controversial cases initiated by the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group. The Court’s painstaking consideration is patent in a 97-page dissection of the prosecution’s evidence. In all, the Decision found “overwhelming contrarieties and infirmities in the testimonies of the prosecution’s witnesses,” the PILC said.

“We are delighted that the Court has well-taken our consistent position that these cases are trumped-up, arguably part of an elaborate ploy to vilify our clients. These cases impleaded many consultants in the peace talks who had gone public – and these charges were but part of persecution by the government,” the lawyers said.

Accused Ocampo, Silva, Baylosis and Echanis, as well as Vicente Ladlad and Wilma Austria are NDFP peace consultants who actively attended formal peace negotiations with the Manila government.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) hailed the decision, saying it is a hard-earned victory for Murillo, Belleza and Tomada, the last a leader of its Eastern Visayas chapter Sagupa at the time of their arrest in 2010.

“It (the decision) inspires hope for farmers nationwide facing the criminalization of asserting land rights. KMP likewise calls for the unconditional release of all political prisoners,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NDFP peace consultant Suaybaguio walks free

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Esterlita Suaybaguio walked to freedom at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) offices at past 5 pm Friday afternoon, cleared of charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

With no available Quezon City barangay available to witness her release by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, the CHR agreed to be the venue of the process yesterday.

BJMP and CHR personnel complete the process to release NDFP peace consultant Esterlita Suaybagio last September 17. (Photy by Defend Jobs Philippines)

Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 219 judge Janet Abegos-Samar acquitted the women’s rights advocate of charges stemming from a search warrant issued by controversial QC executive judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert in 2019.

Suaybagio, alleged by the military as a high-ranking officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines, was arrested in an apartment building in Cubao, Quezon City early morning of August 26, 2019.

Suaybaguio told the court police officers pushed and pinned her to the sink after storming in, preventing her from viewing the commotion inside her apartment.

The activist said she was shocked to learn later that a police officer had allegedly found a 9MM firearm and a hand grenade inside her bag.

Suaybaguio’s acquittal was a triumph over government’s policy of trumped-up charges against activists, particularly NDFP peace consultants, her lawyers from the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) said.

“Her acquittal adds to the victory in a string of cases against activists which have been recently dismissed…We hope the dismissal of other fabricated charges (against other political prisoners) will follow,” the PILC said.

The law center noted similar warrants issued by Burgos-Villavert against journalist Lady Ann Salem and NDFP Negotiating Panel staff members Alexander and Winona Marie Birondo have been dismissed earlier.

Burgos-Villavert has been accused by rights defenders as a “warrant factory” after meeting with former police general Debold Sinas and subsequently issuing warrants used by the police to arrest activists.

The most controversial warrant issued by the judge was used to arrest women’s rights activist Reina Mae Nasino in 2020, who was then 7 months pregnant. Nasino gave birth while in detention to her child River who died weeks later. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

ICC asked to proceed with investigations on Duterte gov’t’s war on drugs

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been asked to proceed with an investigation on the human rights crisis in the Philippines after the conclusion of the preliminary investigation pointing to mass murders under the Rodrigo Duterte regime.

“Following a thorough preliminary examination process, the available information indicates that members of the Philippine National Police, and others acting in concert with them, have unlawfully killed between several thousand and tens of thousands of civilians [between 2016 and 2019],” ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said.

“My Office has also reviewed information related to allegations of torture and other inhumane acts, and related events as early as 1 November 2011, the beginning of the Court’s jurisdiction in the Philippines, all of which we believe require investigation,” she added.

Bensouda said her preliminary investigation has determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder has been committed on the territory of the Philippines between 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the Government of Philippines’ “war on drugs” campaign.

The prosecutor said the situation in the Philippines has been under preliminary examination since February 2018 when her office started analyzing “a large amount of publicly available information and information provided to it under article 15 of the Rome Statute.”

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is a treaty that established the permanent international court with jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.

Lawyer Jude Sabio filed charges before the ICC on April 2017 accusing Duterte of crimes against humanity in connection with the thousands of deaths of suspected illegal drug dependents.

In 2017, former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV traveled to The Hague, The Netherlands to submit information bolstering Sabio’s charges.

The group Rise Up for Life and for Rights composed of families of the victims of Duterte’s war on drugs also submitted a complaint before the ICC in 2018.

Duterte responded by ordering the Philippines’ withdrawal of its ratification of the Rome Statute and repeatedly insulting Bensouda.

Bensouda however clarified that although the Philippines withdrew from the Rome Statute effective March 17, 2019, the ICC retains jurisdiction over crimes that are alleged to have occurred on the territory of the country during the period when it was still a party to the statute.

“Moreover, these crimes are not subject to any statute of limitation,” she explained.

Karapatan photo

Welcome development

Bensouda’s announcement was welcomed by human rights and activist groups as a “long-awaited step towards justice and accountability.”

“[I]t is yet another damning indictment of the Duterte government’s murderous policies that have killed — and continue to kill — thousands of Filipinos with impunity,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

“Karapatan, together with the families of the victims of the drug war and other human rights advocates, welcomes this significant and much-needed development amid the backdrop of the rapidly deteriorating human rights crisis in the Philippines,” Palabay added.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said that one of Duterte’s grossest crimes is its so-called war on illegal drugs.

“In spite of the thousands upon thousands killed, the illegal drugs scourge has gone unabated, proving it is ineffective,” Reyes said.

The ICC prosecutor’s findings is another clear basis why darkness should never be allowed to reign over our country. The regime of state-sponsored killings must be stopped,” he added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

PLM names new gender and development program after Liliosa Hilao

The Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila launched on Monday, April 5, its new gender and development (GAD) program and named it after an activist alumna.

University President Emmanuel Leyco said PLM’s Liliosa Hilao Gender and Development Corner (LHGDC) honors its student leader and honors graduate who was the first political prisoner killed under President Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law.

“Liliosa Hilao remains relevant today. We look up to her as an icon of empowerment. More than gender emancipation, she exemplifies how the youth can spark important conversations on human rights, equality, and justice,” Leyco said.

“It is our privilege and honor to call Ms. Hilao as one of our own and to name our GAD corner after her and the causes that she represents,” he added.

Located at the Celso Al Carunungan Memorial Library, the corner will carry various materials that will promote gender equality and equitable opportunities for all members of the PLM community, the university said.

PLM said LHGDC shall organize annual lectures and forums as well as film showings and exhibits on gender and development as its initial set of activities once the coronavirus-19 pandemic is over.

The launch, held virtually, coincided with Hilao’s 48th death anniversary.

Lilliosa Hilao (PLM image)

Who was Lilli?

Hilao was associate editor of PLM’s pre-martial law student newspaper Hasik and held other positions with the student government while an honors student throughout her academic life.

She also organized the university’s Communication Arts Club, founded its women’s club Alithea and represented PLM College Editors Guild of the Philippines conventions.

Bantayog ng mga Bayani, an institution that honors and remembers martial law heroes and martyrs, wrote “Lilli”, Hilao’s nickname, had a strong sense of justice and a mind of her own.

“This was expressed in the thoughtful essays she wrote for the student paper at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (where she was associate editor); some had titles like ‘The Vietnamization of the Philippines’ and ‘Democracy is Dead in the Philippines under Martial Law,’” Bantayog said.

In April 1973, mere days short of her class’ graduation rites, Philippine Constabulary’s Anti-Narcotics Unit personnel raided their house to look for Lili’s brother, an engineer and activist.

“When the young woman insisted that they produce a search warrant or an arrest order, the soldiers beat her up, then handcuffed and took her away. She was brought to Camp Crame, headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary (now the Philippine National Police),” Bantayog said.

She would not be seen by her relatives until she was returned dead –– her body mangled, tortured, and reportedly raped.

The authorities claimed Hilao committed suicide by drinking muriatic acid.

The LHGDC logo

At the graduation ceremonies held two weeks afterward by PLM, a seat was kept vacant for Lilli, who was still conferred her degree, posthumously and with honors.

PLM Regent Wilma Galvante said during the launch their class wore black armbands on their graduation day in Lilli’s honor.

 Galvante said her classmate was a “true leader who wielded her pen to fight for what is right.”

Lilli’s name is inscribed at the Bantayog’s pantheon of heroes and martyrs.

In her birthplace and hometown Bulan, Sorsogon, a street was named after her in 2001.

Lilli’s sisters Alice and Josefina attended the launch in behalf of the Hilao family. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

PNP letter reveals ongoing profiling of lawyers

The police are going after human rights lawyers representing suspected communist sympathizers, a letter from an intelligence officer revealed.

In a letter to the clerk of court of the Calbayog City Regional Trial Court (RTC), Police Lieutenant Fernando Calabria Jr, requested for a list of lawyers representing CTG (communist terrorist groups) personalities in proceedings.

Calabria’s letter said the request is in compliance with directives from “higher PNP (Philippine National Police) offices.”

The letter, dated March 12, was printed on an officer Calbayog City Police Station letterhead.

PNP’s letter request to the Calbayog RTC.

The request also came with a table that seeks information on the lawyers’ names, affiliations, clients’ names, “modes of neutralization”, cases filed and status.

Supreme Court spokesperson Brian Hosaka said the Calbayog RTC has confirmed receipt of the request on Friday afternoon, “but no action has been made by them on the request.”

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines quickly condemned PNP’s action, saying the letter is “improper, deplorable, and alarming.”

“The letter disregards the very basic principle that lawyers are free and duty-bound to represent those accused regardless of political or ideological persuasions so that their rights are protected, due process is observed, justice is done, and that the rule of law is upheld,” the IBP through its national president and board chairman Domingo Cayosa said in a statement.

Cayosa asked government authorities to investigate the incident and exact accountability to ensure that lawyers can do their job without threats, harassment, intimidation, or retribution.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said the incident is an assault to the administration of justice.

“The letter-request shows the barefaced disregard of the PNP for human rights, particularly the right to access lawyers and legal services. It is an affront to the right and duty of lawyers to exercise their profession without fear as well as the administration of justice,” the NUPL said in a statement.

The lawyers’ group said the police have no right to profile lawyers on the basis of their clients’ personalities or ideologies.

Under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, lawyers must “not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions,” the group explained. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Why Illegal Possession of Firearms and Explosives is the Usual Charge Against Activists

By Atty. Edre U. Olalia

= = = = = = =

On International Human Rights Day yesterday, December 10, the Philippine National Police (PNP) was on a spree, arresting journalist Lady Ann Salem and six trade union organizers. The PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection group said the raids were against a crime syndicate in possession of many guns, ammunition and explosives.

Curiously and ironically, those detained are human rights defenders. They have never figured in any crime but are, without exception, mere activists. The search warrants also came from Quezon City Regional Trial Court executive judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert who has repeatedly issued warrants that resulted in raids of offices and houses of activists throughout the country. All were charged with the same offense of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Deaths have also resulted from such raids, including the infant River Nasino who was born in detention and yanked away from his mother even when he contracted a life-threatening disease.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre U. Olalia explains why the police actions are not crime solving and prevention as it claims but are political acts that persecute citizens and violate human rights.

= = = = = = =

1. Search warrants can be procured by going through the motions and by mere presentation even under oath of supposed witnesses from the authorities to claim that such materiel are supposedly in the possession of those to be arrested.

2. It is easy to plant these materiel whose possession are monopolized by the police and military especially if done at dawn or night and when the arrested persons are first segregated, controlled or neutralized and have no chance to prevent or witness such anomaly.

3. The routinary legal presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty is always invoked against serious claims that these are planted and irregular.

4. Possession of explosives is normally a non-bailable offense so you rot in jail meantime and need to go through a rigorous process over time to prove that the evidence of your guilt is not strong for you to avail of bail if you are lucky.

5. It is easier to convict on mere testimonial evidence that is rehearsed and developed over the years to “prove” mere possession of a thing and its “chain of custody.”

6. It fits into the false political narrative of the State that legal activists have links with the armed underground movement and are, therefore, “terrorists.”

7. It demonizes legal activists as plain criminals who are armed and dangerous and not fighting for a legitimate cause and issues of public interest through non-armed means and fora.

8. It sends a clear message of threat and intimidation that you can be next even if the first and last time you held a gun was when you were playing cops and robbers during childhood.

9. The authorities want to parade that – with all the arsenal of various firearms, explosives and ammunitions supposedly going around and purportedly being kept by open, legal and visible activists – they are incompetent, inutile and ineffective to keep “peace and order” with all its vast powers, draconian laws and measures and the strictures of the pandemic.

10. They don’t bloody care because they believe they are invincible and that there is forever apart from endless love. #

For two mothers, justice harder to reach amid pandemic

Two mothers share how it feels to be prisoners of misery. On top of the uncertainties brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, Marites Asis agonizes over how the justice system has treated her daughter and her late granddaughter, baby River, while Barbara Ruth Angeles has to endure the loss of a daughter to sickness while seeking justice for her son, who’s been in jail for months.

By Aie Balagtas See / Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

The wheels of justice are grinding exceedingly slow for Marites Asis and Barbara Ruth Angeles.

Marites is the mother of Reina Mae “Ina” Nasino, an urban poor leader who was arrested in Manila in November 2019. Ina learned she was pregnant weeks before her transfer to Manila City Jail and gave birth to baby River on July 1, only to be separated from her newborn after a month.

Marites became worried not only over Ina’s freedom and safety, but also over baby River’s health. River, who was dependent on formula milk and donations from the milk bank, was confined at the Philippine General Hospital after contracting pneumonia in September. Baby River’s death sparked public outrage as Ina was not allowed to visit the hospital and was given only six hours to say goodbye to her baby.

Painter Barbara Ruth Angeles has a similar story. It’s been months since she last saw her son Inno, who was arrested on what she said were trumped-up drug charges in Quezon City in 2018. To add to her misery, Inno’s older and only sister died of bladder problems in August.

Inno was not able to say goodbye.

Barbara Ruth has yet to properly mourn the sudden passing of her eldest child as she is busy earning a living while finding ways to free Inno. Barbara Ruth is also busy taking care of her 12-year-old granddaughter, who is now an orphan.

Marites and Barbara Ruth are free but mired in misery that could only be cured by the delivery of justice.

Here are their stories, in their own words.

Marites Asis, illustrated by Alexandra Paredes. (PCIJ)

Justice is heavy handed for Reina Mae Nasino and baby River

By Marites Asis (as told to Aie Balagtas See)

I found out that my daughter Ina was pregnant the same time Covid-19 struck. I felt the weight of heaven crash down on me.

I couldn’t give an interview without crying. At night, I even cry myself to sleep. You’d think I was crazy.

I learned about my daughter’s pregnancy in February, a few weeks before the police were set to transfer her to Manila City Jail.

That’s why when lockdowns were imposed, I was anxious. You need social distancing, but they’re cramped in a dormitory that houses 111 people.

It seemed risky for my daughter to be pregnant and at the same time detained in jail, where she could catch the virus.

I was asleep when Ina was arrested [on Nov. 5, 2019]. Someone went to my house at about 5 a.m. and told me about Ina’s arrest. The person said she was taken to the CIDG (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group) office in Manila Police District (MPD). In short, I rushed to MPD around 5 a.m.

I was hysterical.

I went to Ate Vicky, my older sister, the woman who raised all of us, including Ina. We consider her our mother.

Ate Vicky said we should go to MPD. At MPD headquarters, however, they did not allow us to see Ina immediately.

Investigators were asking them if they really owned those guns.

I was furious.

The police planted evidence against Ina. I know my daughter. They planted guns and grenades. During the arrest, the cops covered their faces with pillows. Who in his right mind would do that to our youth?

It hurts so much to see your child in jail.

You couldn’t even go out because of coronavirus. You’re stuck at home. Anxious and worried.

Before coronavirus hit, I would visit her in jail every day. I never missed a visit until visitation rights were cancelled last March.

With the lockdown in place, I felt helpless.

I always wonder how my daughter is doing. Is she eating well? Can she take a shower in private or do they take showers in groups?

I pity my daughter.

Because of the virus, we could not see each other, especially when she was still pregnant. Covid-19 exacerbated my pain.

She said maybe I could see her again in October.

It’s difficult. It’s really, really difficult. I couldn’t sleep at night. I would always think of her. She would talk to us through video calls, and we were happy to see her tummy grow.

But I felt so guilty. I couldn’t take care of my own daughter.

Ina was supposed to give birth on July 10 but she gave birth nine days early, on July 1.

I didn’t even see her at the hospital.

I was asleep. A jail personnel called me at midnight. She instructed me to go to Fabella Hospital as Ina was about to give birth.

I rushed to Ate Vicky once again. Together we went to Fabella, hoping we could be by my daughter’s side on that important day.

When we got there, the hospital administration said visitors were not allowed because of their Covid-19 protocols.

Anyway, the hospital said Ina had given birth.

Ate Vicky and I went back to Fabella on July 3 to bring diapers and water for the baby.

The security guards said my daughter was still there. They didn’t allow us to see her, so we asked if they could hand the package over to Ina.

On our way home, about noontime, Ate Vicky’s phone rang. It was Ina. She said the baby was crying because she could not produce milk. The baby was hungry.

It baffled us because we thought she was still in the hospital. Ina said they returned to jail on July 2.

No one told us. We just found out. That gave us another bout of sharp pain.

The security guards played us for fools!

We attended to Ina first. When we reached the city jail, we were told the baby was already given formula milk.

Then we stormed Fabella Hospital to confront the guards. We demanded that they return the diapers and water. Those belong to us.

They didn’t even want to return the water and diapers, so I complained at the hospital’s information center.

I last saw Ina when she handed the baby to us on [Aug. 13].

We barely met her. We were not supposed to see Ina. I just asked the warden if I could have a glimpse of my daughter.

How do I feel? I’m filled with pain. I can witness the suffering of my child.

I felt that Ina and my granddaughter did not want to be separated from each other.

How I feel about Ina is the same with how she feels about my granddaughter.

I don’t know why they treated her that way. As a mother, I felt hurt. I don’t know how to explain it. She is not convicted yet.

It was painful to watch them [policemen and jail guards] surround my daughter. It’s okay if they made her wear PPE (personal protective equipment) because she needed to go back to jail. But to handcuff her? As if it’s not a wake.

I have yet to move on.

I skip social media posts that remind me of what happened because they bring back memories of when she was handcuffed at the wake. She was looking at her child. She was not able to come close to her infant’s coffin.

Then there’s the memory of men with high-powered guns barging in to inspect the room and the toilet because they were afraid of getting outfoxed.

You see? They did not give us the chance to bond.

That day, I ran out of tears to cry. All I could do was call them out.

I didn’t have any tears left to cry after seeing my daughter’s situation.

It was difficult to cry because I was enraged. I asked them to leave the room because we didn’t need guns there.

They didn’t have to guard the burial. There were so many of them that they outnumbered the mourners.

I tried to appeal to their hearts. I told them we knew it was an order and we couldn’t do anything. Just the same I hoped they realized it was a burial and a mother would be separated from her child.

I only wish they had thought of that.

During our last conversation at the cemetery, Ina told me: “Ma, it’s okay to put the baby inside the niche.”

Ina held my hand twice: during the wake and during the burial.

She told me: “Ma, give me your hand.” She held it tight.

She was trying to tell me that I needed to be strong. I told her: “Be strong, we will fight back.”

Postscript:

I’m okay. But it’s not easy to forget because the trauma is still there. I can go to work now.

Ina said it’s not yet the end of everything.

I filed a legal complaint over what they did during the baby’s wake and burial. How will I attain justice if I don’t complain? This should serve them a lesson because they must not treat other people the way they treated us.

Baby River died of pneumonia on Oct. 9. The court gave Reina Mae a couple of three-hour furloughs to bid her child goodbye. The first was to visit the wake, the second was to bury her child.

Not even an inch of her skin was able to touch River’s coffin. She was made to wear a full hazmat suit during the visits because of the threat of Covid-19. She was in handcuffs most of the time and was surrounded by heavily armed government forces.

Their family was never given a chance to grieve.

Barbara Ruth Angeles, illustrated by Alexandra Paredes.

Legal shortcuts in the drug war:From ‘palit-ulo’ to ‘amin-laya’

By Barbara Ruth Angeles (as told to Aie Balagtas See)

My son Inno will enter into a plea-bargain agreement. I don’t have any choice left. I have to take him out of jail.

My son does not want it, but I have no choice. How else are we going to set him free? That was why we opted for “amin-laya” (plea bargain).

The advice came from lawyers and BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology) personnel. They said it’s his first offense anyway.

I’m worried for my son, of course, as entering into a plea bargain means having a permanent criminal record. It’s similar to being convicted already, although he is innocent.

But my son’s case has been pending in court for two years. Within that period we only had about four hearings even if the court had released a monthly schedule.

Reset. Reset. Reset.

Since my son couldn’t prove his innocence in court, I told him that once he’s free, it’s up to him to prove to himself that he’s not what the government had accused him of.

Besides, the cops offered this solution to us before, and they promised us they wouldn’t oppose it.

I can take better care of my son if he’s with me. I can tell him, “Don’t go out, don’t go with these people.”

I just want this problem to end. We’re all suffering because of it.

Then, there’s the pandemic. The BJMP does not tell us the exact number of inmates infected with Covid-19. It’s difficult because it’s congested there.

Actually, I had to take risks and buy my son a P15,000 kubol (hut) so he could have his own space, and that’s just plywood about a quarter of a meter in size.

It is very expensive inside city jails. You’re aware of this: If you are poor, you will starve to death inside our jails.

Since visitation rights are suspended, my son and I communicate with each other through phone calls. Imagine this: to get in touch with me, he needs to buy call cards worth P100 for P300. The BJMP asks you to buy the call cards from them.

I won’t tell you the exact amount that I spend on my son but his budget for a week is my budget for two weeks.

I don’t know what else could happen. That’s why I said, “Son, just plead guilty.”

My son was arrested on May 3 (2018). Arrests of drug suspects spiked during that period because of the drug war “quota”. I learned about that so-called quota from the BJMP personnel. They blamed it for their population boom.

Go back to the day Galas police station was raided over an extortion case. That’s how we learned Inno was there.

At first, we had no idea that Inno had been arrested. We looked for him in barangay halls and police stations. We reported him as missing because we couldn’t reach his phone.

I kept crying.

My daughter and I searched everywhere. I thought he was killed because deaths related to bike theft were rampant those days, so we scoured hospitals and funeral parlors.

I posted about our search for Inno on Facebook. One of my school batchmates advised me to report it to 8888. I reported it to the Duterte hotline 8888 but it was not able to help us.

On May 4, Galas Police Station was raided over an extortion case involving its anti-narcotics team.

A police investigator called me and said: “Go to Galas Police Station immediately. Your son is here. Bring food and clothes.”

I was shocked. How did he end up there?

No one entertained me at the police station until I lost my cool.

Someone from GMA News told me to get a good lawyer.

At that time, hiring a private lawyer cost P300,000. Our case got delayed because we couldn’t find one. Some were too old. His grandmother found someone but I think he’s from Aklan.

We couldn’t grasp what was happening. We were desperate to find a lawyer. It was mental torture. We weren’t used to this. It was the first time someone in the family got involved in a court case.

The most enraging part was my son didn’t violate any law.

You know, initially, the police didn’t even have a record of his arrest.

I talked to detainees and some policemen at Galas. I learned that the SAID (Station Anti-Illegal Drugs Division) cops were supposed to kill Inno as a replacement for big fish that they’re extorting money from.

The policemen in Galas said my son was intended for “palit-ulo.” (Palit-ulo, which literally means head-swapping, is a scheme in which a drug suspect gets freedom in exchange for ratting out on his or her suppliers.)

They said it was for a “zero-zero.” You know zero-zero?

That meant they would kill him.

The policemen tortured my son.

I have evidence, including the medico-legal report, and X-ray and CT scan results.

At the hospital, the doctor said he had fractured ribs. They also saw a “metallic forensic” in his left leg.

The doctor did not want him to leave, but Galas police did not allow him to be operated on. Despite his fractures and injuries, Galas turned him over to the city jail.

We lost the chance to have him treated. His wounds eventually healed in jail.

You asked how I’m doing?

It’s the first time someone asked me that question.

Well, I’m not… I’m not okay. I try to do my normal routine but emotionally, no, I’m not okay. My daughter died in August while my son is in jail. She’s my eldest and the only one I could rely on to deal with this problem.

We were able to get hold of the CCTV [showing Inno’s illegal arrest] because of her.

I still couldn’t accept that my daughter had passed away.

Inno was not able to say goodbye. They had not seen each other for two years.

She was sick but was not confined. Her resistance was down and I was afraid that she might catch the virus in the hospital.

My daughter left behind three children. The eldest child, an 11-year-old girl, does not have a father. I’m taking care of her.

My granddaughter is already worried that her life will fall apart if something happens to me. I told her, nothing’s going to happen to me because I still have a purpose in life.

I have faith in the Lord.

I never questioned God for everything that I’m going through. I know he will not give me these trials if I cannot overcome them.

I’m trying to be strong for my son and for my granddaughter. If I falter, who would be strong for them?

But it’s difficult.

Postscript:

I think my daughter is guiding me. I feel better now. I started painting again 40 days after her death.

I used to paint with dark colors, colors that you can associate with death. This time, I’m using positive and vibrant colors. My artwork seems alive.

Do I have peace of mind?

No. I can only have peace of mind when my son is finally with me. –PCIJ, December 2020

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Aie Balagtas See is a freelance journalist working on human rights issues. Follow her on Twitter (@AieBalagtasSee) or email her at [email protected] for comments.

Inspired by The Marshall Project’s Life Inside, Marites’ and Barbara’s stories are part of PCIJ’s series on the criminal justice system, which includes first-person accounts from ​current and former detainees and their family members​.

Kodao publishes PCIJ reports as part of a content-sharing agreement.