Political prisoners, other PDLs oppose transfer to new ‘Guantanamo-style’ jail inside Bagong Diwa

Political prisoners and other detainees at the Metro Manila District Jail Annex 4 (MMDJ-4) in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City are appealing against their transfer to a newly constructed prison facility, which a support group of political prisoners dubs the “Philippine Guantanamo.”

In a written petition presented at a meeting convened by the Makabayan bloc in Congress with the head of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) last Wednesday, March 20, the detainees said they request reconsideration of the decision to transfer them to the newly constructed jail facility at the MMDJ-Main.

“We, the detainees of MMDJ Annex 4, Camp Bagong Diwa, have come together to request to remain in MMDJ Annex 4 because we only number 305 PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) here, and overcrowding is not an issue,” they said in a handwritten letter addressed to BJMP chief Gen. Ruel Rivera.

Written in Filipino, the letter was signed by eight “mayores” representing various groups that include the political prisoners, Moro organizations and prison gangs in the MMDJ-4 facility.

The letter written by the PDLs to BJMP. (Supplied by Kapatid)

Political prisoners support group Kapatid described the new facility as a “Guantanamo-style prison” that features cramped two by three meter cells.

Kapatid  spokesperson Fides Lim told BJMP chief Gen. Ruel Rivera that families of political prisoners support the PDLs’ appeal as congestion does not seem to be the primary issue for transfer amid “disturbing” reports that the political prisoners and Muslim PDLs will be incarcerated in the “bartolina-type” cells on the seventh floor of one of the new buildings in the MMDJ Main.

Guantanamo is the notorious prison operated by the United States of America in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for those it considers as its enemies and so-called terrorists. It has become notorious for torture, harsh interrogation techniques, indefinite detention without trial and other human rights abuses and violations of international law as well as lack of transparency and accountability.

Kapatid said the solitary isolation cells smack of the notorious US prison camp.

“Is Guantanamo now being transplanted into the Philippine jail system? But ‘confinement in solitary cells’ is considered among the ‘acts of torture’ explicitly prohibited under Republic Act 9745 or Anti-Torture Act of 2009 and similarly proscribed under the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Mandela Rules,” Lim said.

The meeting between the BJMP and the Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives. (Supplied by Kapatid)

ACT Teachers Party Rep. France Castro also questioned the reported involvement of an agency under the US Department of Justice, the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), in the funding, construction and operation of the new huge jail compound located beside the MMDJ Annex 4 building.

BJMP chief Gen. Director Ruel Rivera said the “ICITAP is only involved in training” of local jail personnel and that he “opposes the practice of solitary confinement because this is prohibited under the Mandela Rules.”

Rivera pledged to conduct an “ocular inspection” of the new facility and provide the Makabayan representatives with “complete background information” about it, including funding source and the BJMP’s logistics development plan around 2016.

Castro and the other Makabayan partylist members, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas and Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel, said they will also push for an ocular inspection of the new facility together with the House committee on human rights.

They said this is part of the oversight functions of the legislature to review and monitor public sector agencies to ensure their compliance with constitutional and legal prescriptions, especially on the protection of basic rights. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Si Ineng at si Labuyo: Tala’t mga Tula

A love letter from prison

by Rosario Gonzalez

Benito Quilloy’s second book, “Si Ineng at Si Labuyo: Tala’t mga Tula,” is a timely and informative read that captures a nation’s history through a family’s story and 16 poems. Nearing 70 now, Quilloy has been languishing in jail for more than six years on trumped-up charges.

The union of two different individuals in the person of Ineng and Labuyo, Quilloy’s parents, who were constantly bickering but deeply cared for each other, takes center stage in the first piece in this book. With nine offsprings, the couple faced life’s difficulties and challenges confident that their love and strong family values of education, respect for people, hard work and honesty will steer them towards the right direction. 

Ineng was only 17 when she married Labuyo, ten years her senior. It was the end of the Second World War when they had their first child. All of their nine children were delivered by the same local midwife.

Both Ineng and Labuyo were unable to finish elementary, although the latter was allowed to teach despite this. Labuyo also became a farmer, fisherman, carpenter and baker. When he got married, he engaged in business, at one time, owning three supermarkets in Los Banos. And here is where Quilloy’s knowledge of history and self-deprecating humor comes into play. He wrote how the American colonial economic policy for the Philippines led to the downfall of their business. He described how the almost reversal of their family fortune resulted in the change of their lifestyle – from a household that can afford to hire help to one that depended on their individual labor for the household to be kept running. But it was also the most critical point in their family history that strengthened their character and developed them into responsible, kind and compassionate human beings. The nine children of Labuyo and Ineng learned their most valuable lessons while growing up as the country grappled with the challenges of being a colony of the most powerful country in the world, even after having been granted its so-called independence.

Life after school and getting married for the Quilloy children was also not a walk in the park.  It has melodrama written all over it, including the heart breaks and revelations. Yet humor is always present mixed with the ability to be flexible and accepting of the flaws of loved ones.

Quilloy, as the only one among the siblings who expressed a desire to be a doctor, was also resigned to the fact that their parents will not be able to finance his education. He remained their principal marketer and family cook up until he worked full-time fighting for peasants and human rights.

With his unjust incarceration, Quilloy was provided the chance to work on both his prose and poetry. It was poetry that initially attracted him in jail as he tried to find ways to ward off boredom, longing and loneliness. He eventually fulfilled his longtime dream to write the story of his parents as a tribute and sign of gratitude to them.

The 16 poems that are in the book, “Si Ineng at Si Labuyo: Tala’t mga Tula,” continue to speak of his love and admiration for his parents. It also tackles the following: life and art, call for real democracy, justice and peace, longing for love and life in the New Year, social transformation, fear of losing a loved one, love and intimacy, people’s struggle, tribute to health frontliners, people’s struggles and victory, and his continuing service to the people.

Quilloy is steadfast in his belief in the people’s capacity to chart their own destiny. This shows in his poems which trace a long line of adherents for social transformation as well as his own contribution which he believes is even strengthened by imprisonment. His everyday thoughts of sadness highlight his humanity, a fact that prison life can aggravate. But his optimism and political conviction does not waver. 

Quilloy cannot see himself as anything but a believer for what we all aspire for — freedom, equality and genuine democracy. His mantra of service to the people remains, and the reader cannot but agree with him. 

Benito Quilloy, along with another development worker, Rita Espinoza were forcibly taken by about ten elements of the Criminal and Investigation Detection Group – Philippine National Police (CIDG-PNP) in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental in October 19, 2017. They are presently detained at the Butuan City Jail in Agusan del Norte. #

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Those interested in buying a copy of the book, priced at P350 each, may email [email protected] or message 09772882428. (Kindly identify yourself when sending a text message)

KAPATID: ‘Red-tagging CHED chair may take custody of elder sister Adora’

Political prisoner support group appeals for martial law survivor’s humanitarian release

Political prisoner support group Kapatid appealed for humanitarian release and immediate return to Manila of martial law survivor Adora Faye de Vera, suggesting that her brother, Cabinet member Prospero de Vera III, may act as her guarantor.

Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said the government may put Adora could be put under the legal custody of younger sibling Prospero, Commission on Higher Education chairperson, as he is appropriate for the role.

“The very reasons that Prof. de Vera announced to distance himself from his sister could ironically provide the same rationale why he fits the bill as a guarantor…Who better [to act as] guarantor than a brother who has red-tagged his sister to prove in his own words that he neither ‘shares her views nor supports her actions’ and ‘fully supports the government in its efforts to end the communist insurgency’?” Lim said.

In a statement following his sister’s arrest last Wednesday, August 24, Prospero said he has not spoken to his sister for more than 25 years “since she decided to rejoin the underground movement.”

Prospero added that while he hopes and prays for Adora’s safety and good health in detention as she faces the cases filed against her, he fully supports the administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in its efforts to end the communist insurgency.

‘Very sick’

Adora’s son also Ron’s called for his mother’s release and return to Manila to continue with her medical treatment.

“My mother is 66 now and very sick that’s why she was in Manila to seek medical care. We appeal to government authorities to immediately bring her back to Manila to ensure her safety while she undergoes medical treatment for chronic asthma and complications,” Ron, former program coordinator of Amnesty International Philippines, said.

Ron said their family is very worried for Adora’s safety following “tokhang-style” killings of prominent activists, mostly elderly and very ill, who were tagged by military-police forces as leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army.

Among them are National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultants  Antonio Cabanatan, 74, and his wife Florenda Yap, 65, who were abducted, tortured, and murdered by police-military units also in Iloilo on December 26, 2020.

“Iloilo is not a safe place for Mama and it’s very far away from us. She has been through so much suffering. We appeal to government authorities to give her a chance to live a peaceful life and receive the proper medical care she needs. Please release her on humanitarian grounds and allow us to take care of her,” said Ron, whose father and Adora’s first husband, Manuel “Noni” Manaog, a community organizer, was abducted in 1990 and remains missing.

Adora was twice arrested during the Ferdinand Marcos Sr. dictatorship who revealed torture and rape in the hands of her captors.

She was among thousands of petitioners who successfully prosecuted the late dictator in a Hawaii court for human rights violations during martial law.

Kapatid’s Lim said Adora’s imprisonment reopens festering wounds that presents a tremendous challenge to new President Marcos Jr. “to show he is not incapable of righting the wrongs of the past and that his mantra of unity during the elections is not a hollow message to sidestep his family’s brutal and corrupt history.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Morita Alegre back home, ‘now surrounded by loved ones’

Former political prisoner Morita Alegre is back home in Sagay City and reunited with her family, San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza announced Monday.

“God is good! Finally after 16 years inside the Correctional Institute for Women as a political prisoner, Nanay Morita Alegre, 75, is now reunited with her family,” the prelate said on Facebook.

Alminaza also announced that a house is being built for Morita near the beach, and is now “surrounded by her caring loved ones and friends.”

Alminaza said the former political prisoner told him she never stopped praying and held on to her faith in all her 16 years in prison.

Morita and late husband Jesus were active members of San Carlos Diocese’s basic ecclesial community called Gagmay’ng Kristohanong Katilingban.

Morita Alegre (seated) with family after the Thanksgiving Mass celebrated by San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza (behind her). (Photo from Bishop Alminaza’s Facebook account)

Jesus died in prison last June 13, 2021 however.

Morita was freed last January 28 after completing her sentence for the murder of one Rogelio Tipon, bodyguard of local landlord and alleged land-grabber Avelino Gaspar.

The Alegres denied they killed Tipon, citing the victim’s widow has even refused to continue to prosecute the family in court.

Gaspar was accused by the Alegres of trying to grab their land.

Alegreses’ son Selman, co-accused in the murder, remains detained at the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa City to this day however.

Morita’s supporters raised funds for her return to Sagay City.

“Nay Morita and her family are grateful to all who helped her gained back her freedom – both in government and among our faith-based ecumenical network,” Alminaza said.

Alminaza celebrated a Thanksgiving Mass for Morita’s return on Monday, February 14. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Morita Alegre walks free, appeals for the release of son Selman

Morita Alegre, 75-year old political prisoner and widow of political prisoner Jesus Alegre, is free.

Political prisoner support group Kapatid announced on Saturday that Alegre walked out of the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City on Friday, January 28, after 16 years in prison.

“Through combined lobby efforts by Kapatid, Karapatan and church groups led by Negros Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, she was granted commutation of sentence on December 24, 2021,” Kapatid said in a statement.

Alegre’s release came a few days after Alminaza’s public petition last January 22 for her release.

READ: Bishop renews call for release of elderly prisoner and son

“Deo gratias!” (Thanks be to God!) was the prelate’s reaction to the announcement on his Facebook wall.

Kapatid said Alegre’s release papers show she had already served her maximum sentence with 3,676 days – more than 10 years – for “Good Conduct Time Allowance.”

“Today, there is nothing more Nanay (Mother) Morita wants to do than to return home. And home is their coastal barangay (of Taba-ao) in Sagay, Negros Occidental,” Kapatid said.

The group added that Alegre first intends to visit the grave of Jesus when she arrives in Sagay.

The widow last saw her husband at his wake at the Iglesia Filipina Indipendiente National Cathedral on Taft Avenue, Manila in June 2021 when she was given a furlough to see him before his body was flown to their hometown for burial.

Jesus died on June 13 from renal failure and multiple complications despite repeated appeals for his humanitarian release.

READ: 2nd oldest political prisoner dies in detention

The Alegres, fisher folk and farmers, were arrested on April 14, 2005 and ended up convicted for the killing of one Rogelio Tipon, bodyguard of local landlord and alleged land-grabber Avelino Gaspar.

Tipon’s widow Helena has executed an Affidavit of Desistance, but Karapatan said Gaspar has instigated the trial’s continuation that convicted the Alegres.

The Alegres’ refusal to give up their land has also caused the death of a son, Romeo, Karapatan said.

Kapatid said Morita seeks support for Selman, 47, who remains jailed at the New Bilibid Prison, Muntinlupa City.

The group also appeals for assistance to fly Morita home to Negros Island.

Donations may be coursed through Kapatid’s  GCash number 0929 612 3517 (Roni), Kapatid said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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)

Terminally ill political detainee dies waiting for ‘compassionate release’

Antonio Molina, the terminally ill political prisoner who asked for “compassionate release” from a local court,  has died Thursday night, November 18 in a Puerto Princesa City hospital. He was 67.

Political prisoners support group Kapatid announced Molina was brought to the Ospital ng Palawan yesterday after suffering from cardiac arrest.  He died a few minutes after 10 pm, the group said.

Kapatid added Molina was the sixth political prisoner to die during the pandemic. There is no report if he was tested for COVID-19 despite the extreme congestion of the city jail, it said.

Human rights group Karapatan said Molina is the 11th political detainee to die under the Rodrigo Duterte administration.

Faith-based group Promotion of Church Peoples’ Response (PCPR) also announced Molina’s death in a separate statement.

“With deep sadness, we bid farewell to Antonio Molina who died this evening November 18, 2021 after suffering months of excruciating pain from terminal cancer while in prison,” the PCPR said.

Molina was arrested on Oct. 4, 2019 in Palawan together with six staffers of the human rights group Karapatan. They were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives the Philippine National Police usually files against activists and alleged communists.

Molina was diagnosed with malignant stomach cancer (abdominal sarcoma) last March 24.

This led his family, lawyers and human rights groups to petition the government to grant him a “compassionate release” to allow him continued hospitalization and medical care.

But the motions filed by human rights lawyers were first denied by the Regional Trial Court Branch 51 of Puerto Princesa in Palawan last October 15.

READ: Rights group raps court refusal to release terminally ill political prisoner

“We had been asking the government for his compassionate release since the day that doctors gave him six months to live because of poor prognosis due to extreme disease,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said.

“We also appealed to the court and prison officials to transfer Molina to a hospital where he could receive intensive care. This was blocked by the prison warden who even denied that he was bedridden. It was too late when the Jail Inspector reversed their position on November 15 and asked the court to act on Molina’s motion for release on recognizance on humanitarian grounds,” Lim added.

Atty Ma. Sol Taule, one of Molina’s lawyers said she received a call Thursday night from his doctors asking permission to intubate the political detainee.

“I informed them of his family’s wish for his life to be extended to allow them to travel to Puerto Princesa to say their final goodbyes,” the lawyer said in Filipino.

“Our sadness and regret are profound for the delayed Release on Recognizance motion we filed before the court that would have allowed his family to take care of him in his final days,” Taule said, adding Molina was yet another victim of the government’s trumped up charges against activists.

Kapatid for its part asked the Commission on Human Rights to conduct an independent investigation into the responsibility and liability of prison officials as well as the accountability of a “callous” court in Molina’s death.

“[W]e ask the (CHR) to lead an independent investigation into his death, particularly the negligence of prison officials, even as we ask the court to reexamine itself and be held accountable for its callous decision-making that effectively served as his death warrant,” Lim said.

Last October, Kapatid asked why “a bedridden old man, completely disabled and incapable of any self-care, cannot benefit from the equity of the law that was used in principle to grant bail for jailed and convicted politicians accused of nonbailable high crimes.”

“The justice system failed Antonio Molina because of double standard and selective application. The penal system further punished him without mercy, deaf to his cries for help. We express our sincerest condolences to his bereaved family,” Lim said.

Taule said Molina was a gentle elderly person who always smiled and looked after his fellow prisoners even as he suffered excruciating pain because of illness.  

“His indigenous people colleagues and fellow political detainees Awing and Bener were proud that they learned to read and write because of Molina’s tutelage.

The PCPR also said Molina endured great injustice at the hands of his accusers.

“[B]ut he is victorious. He has finished the race. He has fought the good fight,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)


“An infant. A burial.  A river of tears and rage.”

A Film by Maricon Montajes. A Kodao Production


Women’s rights activist Reina Mae Nasino was a month into her pregnancy when arrested by Manila’s police on suspected trumped-up charges. She endured a difficult pregnancy in one of the world’s most crowded prisons and gave birth to Baby River Emmanuel while in detention. Efforts to allow mother and child to spend more time together failed, the Philippine government justifying their early separation to the lack of infant care facilities inside prisons. Denied care from her mother, Baby River died at only three months old.

River of Tears and Rage is film culled from Kodao Productions’ Facebook Live coverage of Baby River’s wake and burial. Amid a raging coronavirus pandemic, a dead three month-old infant became a symbol of political repression by a regime denounced worldwide for its crimes against the people.

Director’s Statement:

Alternative media outfit Kodao Productions has extensively reported on many cases of activists arrested on trumped up charges of possessing illegal guns and explosives. Reina Mae Nasino was one such case. She was pregnant when arrested and was forced to continue her pregnancy inside the country’s notoriously overcrowded prisons. She gave birth while in detention and was forcibly separated from her infant child very early. Due to lack of maternal care, the baby got sick and died at only three months old.

Kodao produced comprehensive reports on the drama that transpired during the baby’s wake and chaotic burial. Its live report generated the most number of views and reactions from a shocked nation as fully-armed police and jail guards went against deeply-held Filipino values of respect for the dead and burial traditions.

This film puts together the most dramatic events during a three-month old baby’s wake and burial, using smart phones, consumer cameras and Facebook Live footages. It also includes real time comments from viewers, a great majority of whom expressed outrage at the government’s merciless show of might against its people.

Poster of the film River of Tears and Rage.

The Director:

Maricon “Conz” Montajes is a video editor, filmmaker and a former political prisoner. After being incarcerated for seven years, she resumed her studies and recently graduated Cum Laude from the University of the Philippines Film Institute with a BA Film degree. She was a three-year scholar of the Office of the Initiatives for the Culture and the Arts UP Diliman Visual Arts and Cultural Studies Scholarship Program (OICA UPD-VACSSP) as well as a university scholar. She is the video designer for Huni at Pakpak, a stage play for the CCP’S Festival of Women’ s Plays 2020. She is also the video editor and director of Salugpongan and Sining Sandata, which both won 1st prizes in the 1st UP PAG-AALAY webXHIBITION & FESTIVAL. Her recent work, Sanib Lakas, also won Top 2 Judges’ Choice in Year 2 of CNN Reel Filipina A Digital Shorts Competition (2021). She is a videographer and photographer for Kodao Productions, an alternative media outfit based in the Philippines, and also part of the film collective Sine Sanyata. 

The Production:

River of Tears and Rage is a 26-minute video-documentary that started from a coverage of the crackdown against activist groups by the Rodrigo Duterte administration of the Philippine government, including that of Reina Mae Nasino and, by grievous extension, her three-month old infant.

As the first anniversary of the baby’s birth drew near, Kodao Productions decided to gather its actual video footage of the wake and burial, along with other materials from activist organizations and other alternative media outfits. The film is thus produced from these materials, central of which is the Facebook Live footage that gripped Filipino netizens that fateful day.

The film is a simple retelling of those events. With the exception of the sound designer, its production team is virtually the same coverage team that covered the wake and the burial.

As in most other small, independent and alternative multi-media outfits throughout the world, the production team members are skilled and versed in various disciplines that allow them to produce several kinds of outputs in several platforms.

Severely limited in yet another lockdown due to an outbreak of record numbers of new coronavirus  cases, production meetings during the production of this film was conducted online.

About the producer:

Kodao has received awards and citations from the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, Catholic Mass Media Awards, Pandayang Lino Brocka, Titus Brandsma Awards, Gawad Agong, and Gawad Urian for its film and radio productions. It celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

From Kodao’s inception until his death last month, National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera served as chairperson of its Board of Directors. This film is dedicated to him. #

(The film’s online premiere today, October 16, is the anniversary of Baby River’s burial. The premiere is in partnership with Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, Kapatid, Promotion of Church People’s Response, Gabriela USA and Malaya Movement USA.)

‘MAGSASAKA, BUTIHING AMA’: Who was Jesus Alegre and why he did not deserve a single day in prison


Jesus Alegre, a 75-year-old political prisoner, his wife Morita, 74, and son Selman, 47, have been in prison for 16 years despite the fact they did not deserve even a single day behind bars. On Sunday, June 13, after months of increasing weakness and disorientation, Jesus could no longer sit up or stand by himself and died without even seeing a glimmer of freedom.

Who was Jesus Alegre and why should his story be known?

Named after the savior of the world and happiness, Jesus Alegre was a Filipino everyman born on December 22, 1945 who eked out a living from fishing and farming. Together with his family, he lived by the sea in barangay Taba-Ao in Sagay at the northern tip of Negros Occidental, a provincial cradle of centuries-old feudal oppression. He strived to make ends meet by fishing and by selling copra and coconut wine (tuba) produced from the coconut trees they planted.

Though he could barely read and write and his wife Morita is illiterate, they were able to raise seven children and send them to school with the income they earned from the sea and the earth. According to a 2015 report from Karapatan, the industrious couple was also of great help to anyone in their community who needed financial assistance.

Life for Alegre and his family in their coastal barangay seemed good. But it changed when a “landlord town official,” Avelino Gaspar, tried to grab the land they tilled and nurtured over a generation. Gaspar tried to get out a land title for 15 hectares that included the portion of 1.12 hectare, which the family of Alegre had improved and planted with 386 coconut trees. Gaspar wanted to acquire the entire area and lease it to a Japanese who was interested in turning it into a resort.

Committed to keeping what they have, the Alegre family filed a protest before the Bureau of Lands and the land dispute was taken up by the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office. Because of such protest, Gaspar was barred from getting title for the applied land. This stoked his ire, especially when the Alegres refused the money that was offered in exchange for their small plot of farmland.

On September 8, 1994, according to Karapatan, hired goons assaulted the Alegres, killing their son Romeo. It was fortunate that the rest of the family was able to escape the attack. Despite the death of their son, the Alegres stood firm in keeping their land from which they derived their livelihood with dignity and peace.

The attacks against Alegre and his family intensified even after the killing. In 2001, hired goons fenced their land to drive them away and threatened them with death. According to the report, hired men shot at Alegre and his son Danilo when they approached them and tried to talk to them.

One day, a firefight ensued between the goons and some unidentified men. One of the goons, Rogelio Tipon, was killed. The killing of Tipon was blamed on the Alegres. Jesus, his wife Morita and son Selman were arrested on April 14, 2005 and charged falsely with murder. All three were convicted on April 1, 2009 and sentenced to reclusion perpetua for murder.

Morita is presently held at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong while Selman is at the New Bilibid Prison Maximum Security Compound, the same facility of his father Jesus.

The main witnesses to the killing of Tipon were his wife Helena and Avelino Gaspar himself. Helena was the main complainant of the murder case. But as the Alegres were on trial, she executed an Affidavit of Desistance. Yet through the insistence of Gaspar, the three Alegres were still prosecuted and Helena’s affidavit was never formally filed, and the private complainant was turned into “People of the Philippines.”

Jesus’ story tells of how ordinary and poor Filipinos easily fall victim to the powerful and moneyed who even more easily get away with jailing and even killing the innocent to get what they want. Jesus Alegre was not an activist nor a member of any groups involved in peasant struggles. But his plight showcases the age-old feudal oppression in the island of Negros, and human rights groups took up his case to provide support and considered him and the rest of his family as political prisoners.

As relayed by the members of Karapatan and Kapatid who visited him in the past months and years, Jesus would consistently air only one wish: “Gusto kong makalaya. Kelan ako lalaya?” (I want to be freed. When will I be freed?)

Political detainee Jesus Alegre in obvious pain when he was first taken to the hospital in February 2021. Four months later, Alegre dies while in detention.

Inside jail, in one of the most extremely congested prison systems in the world where two inmates die every day and 5,200 every year, his health steadily deteriorated. In February this year, due to the efforts of Kapatid, the support group of families and friends of political prisoners, Jesus was brought to the Ospital ng Muntinlupa for check-up and laboratory tests. He was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, uncontrolled diabetes type 2, ischemic heart disease, and possible chronic kidney disease. Kapatid had to shoulder all his medical expenses.

Jesus’ wish was never granted by the government despite Kapatid’s repeated efforts to submit his name and of Morita to the Department of Justice at least four times from December 2019 to December 2020 so they could make it to the Christmas list of elderly prisoners to be considered for executive clemency.

Even in the midst of a health crisis where Jesus is considered at risk because of his medical condition, the calls made by Kapatid and other groups were disregarded. Jesus is the fifth political prisoner to die during the pandemic and his death brings to a greater yet unknown total number the death toll among persons deprived of liberty amid the continuing health emergency.

Kapatid presses for justice and freedom for 74-year-old Morita Alegre and their son Selman and to allow them to pay their last respects to a good husband and a good father whom Morita has not seen for 16 years. Is this too much ask of a government which has freed plunderers for proven crimes against the people? Isang sulyap lang. Just a glimpse of him who never had a glimmer of freedom. #

Mother of political detainee appeals to have daughter and infant reunited

By Joseph Cuevas

Maritess Asis, mother of political prisoner Reina Mae Nasino, renewed her appeal to the Supreme Court to release her daughter who just gave birth last month.

This after jail authorities ordered Nasino’s one-month old baby girl be separated from her following the Manila Court’s junked her petition to be allowed to take care of the infant at least a year even inside the prison.

At around 12:30 pm Thursday, August 13, Manila City Jail Female Dorm personnel handed over the infant to her grandmother.

The baby, wrapped in a blanket, was wailing when separated from her mother, Asis said.  

“Mabigat sa dibdib ko, nakita ko kasi ang anak ko. Kaya nananawagan po ako sa Supreme Court. Ibaba niyo po ang desisyon para makasama na niya ang anak niya,” she said. (It is heartbreaking to see my daughter this way. That is why I am appealing to the Supreme Court to hand out its decision so that my daughter would be with her infant.)

Maritess Asis, mother of political prisoner Reina Mae Nasino, with her granddaughter.

Asis said that she herself was only able to see her daughter from a distance during the turnover.  

“Ang sakit-sakit po na magkahiwalay sila. Nararamdaman ko po ang nararamdaman ng anak ko,” she said. (It is painful that they are separated. I feel what my daughter feels.)

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) lamented the government’s decision to separate Nasino from her infant, describing the move as ruthless and callous.

In a statement, NUPL said that amid the pandemic, authorities are pushing for the “heartless and inhuman act” of separating a baby from her only source of nutrition and protection at a vulnerable stage of her life.

The lawyer’s group also expressed dismay at the Manila Court’s ruling that lactation facilities that will enable mothers like Nasino to express milk should be referred to the local government or the appropriate government agency, “implying that these are no concern of the jail.”

The irony is the government is celebrating Breastfeeding Awareness Month this August under Section 12 of RA 11028 or the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009. Under this law, all government agencies have the duty to uphold children’s right to their mothers’ breastmilk,” the NUPL said.

“Likewise, under RA 11148, or the Kalusugan at Nutrisyon ng Mag-Nanay Act of 2018, Ina (Nasino) and her baby should not to be separated for early breastfeeding initiation and exclusive breastfeeding, which is part of the strengthened integrated strategy for maternal, neonatal, child health and nutrition in the first one thousand (1,000) days of life,” the group added.

Nasino gave birth last July 1 at the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital and was forcibly returned to prison with her baby a day after.

She was arrested November last year along with two other activists in what her fellow activists describe as part of an ongoing government against progressive groups.

Meanwhile, political prisoners support group Kapatid reminded Supreme Court magistrates about its long-pending petition to release select prisoners due to COVID 19.

The group said it filed its petition last April 8 requesting that pregnant women and lactating mothers, the elderly and sickly, and those who have served their sentences be freed to help decongest prisons and prevent outbreaks in the country’s overcrowded prisons. #