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

By KAPATID

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. #

Miradel walks free, unites with son she gave birth to under detention

After five years behind bars, Maria Miradel Torres will finally reunite with her son she gave birth to in prison.

Miradel walked out from Camp Bagong Diwa Tuesday afternoon, July 23, no longer wearing an inmate’s orange garb but an aquamarine shirt and a huge smile.

Miradel while leaving Camp Bagong Diwa yesterday. (Photo by Jose Mari Callueng/Karapatan)

She was acquitted of murder and frustrated murder charges her lawyers and supporters said are trumped up.

Miradel was four-months pregnant when she was arrested by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Southern Luzon Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on June 20, 2014.

The police and the soldiers did not present a warrant of arrest and searched the entire house without a search warrant when she was snatched.

Later, an alias warrant of arrest was presented,  issued by the court on the very day of her so-called arrest.

A Gabriela member in Mauban town, Miradel was charged with murder and frustrated murder at the Infanta Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Quezon.

Miradel denied that she was a murderer.

 “I cannot even kill a mosquito. There is no truth to the crime they are accusing me of,” she told Bulatlat.com in 2014.

When the police swooped down on her relatives’ house where she was staying, Miradel was suffering from profuse bleeding and was seeking medical treatment.

Her difficult pregnancy was exacerbated by the poor maternal and pre-natal health care inside the country’s prisons.

Miradel and her then newly-born son Payter. (Bulatlat file photo)

Miradel gave birth to her son Payter on November 17, 2014, at the Philippine General Hospital. She was only allowed to be with her child for six months, two months in the hospital and four months in jail thereafter.

Miradel’s bail petitions to allow her to take care of her infant had been repeatedly denied by the Infanta RTC.

When her infant son was taken away from her, what followed was five years of agony.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay witnessed how Miradel suffered but chose to fight her unjust imprisonment.

“We saw her pain with her difficult pregnancy while in detention, her joy when she nursed little Payter in the hospital, their heartbreaking separation when jail officials decided to disallow Payter’s stay in jail despite his need for his mother’s breastmilk and care, her parents’ unbending determination to support their daughter, and Miradel’s own resolve to fight on,” Palabay said.

Human rights worker Jose Mari Callueng visited Miradel at Bagong Diwa’s “female dormitory” several times.

“[During]…the many times I visited Miradel at the female dorm of Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig, she would always talk about her son and how she looked forward to the day when she can give him countless hugs and kisses,” Callueng said.

Finally, though, Miradel is reunited with her son. But many women political prisoners, some of whom mothers with little children, still languish in jail.

“There are 545 political prisoners in the Philippines, 65 of them are women, some are mothers with little children. There are 13 couples who are political prisoners, with children and/or grandchildren longing for their immediate release,” Palabay said.

Miradel’s freedom, however, is a cause for celebration for human rights workers.

“At most times, we witness the sorrows of the families of political prisoners when their loved ones get arrested, tortured, and detained for years. It is excruciatingly painful to see how they are given the run-around by the police and military to locate their loved ones, how they have to work doubly hard to have enough money for pamasahe (fare money) to see them in jail and to bring some bread or medicine that they need, how they hear the false testimonies in court accusing these dedicated and courageous individuals of crimes they did not commit, how their loved ones are maliciously painted as common criminals and terrorists,” Palabay said.

“But there are times that we witness big smiles, hearty thank you’s, joyful tears and pleasant hellos and goodbyes. Since yesterday, we witnessed these big smiles, hearty thank you’s, joyful tears and pleasant hellos and goodbyes,” she added of Miradel’s release.

“Let us not allow another good mother or father, or son or daughter, them who fight for the rights of the people, to be separated from their families again, and suffer anguish as the state imprison them on baseless trumped-up charges,” Callueng added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Political detainee dies in Batangas, 4th under Duterte

A political prisoner died at the Batangas Provincial Jail last Friday, April 19, the fourth to die under the Rodrigo Duterte government.

Franco “Pangkoy” Romeroso, 38, suffered a stroke and died while he was confined in a hospital in Batangas City, human rights group Karapatan said.

Romeroso was being treated for his tuberculosis and diabetes mellitus when he died, the group added.

Romeroso, a father of a baby girl, was first arrested in 2010 as among the healthworkers known as the Morong 43.

Arrested, tortured and detained for 10 months, the health workers were released due to the strong international and national campaign on their case.

Romeroso was again arrested in Ternate, Cavite on March 27, 2015 on murder, multiple murder, attempted murder, and robbery with violence and intimidation charges Karapatan said were all trumped up.

Lawyers of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) condoled with the family of Romeroso they described as a victim of “vicious state repression.”

“He (Romeroso) faced several ridiculous cases in Nasugbu, some of which had been already dismissed. He had been awaiting his next hearing in June 2019 for possible dismissal of the rest, for failure to prosecute,” the PILC said.

The law center described Romeroso as “diminutive and soft-spoken.”

“[He] had beaten other false charges before (in 2010 as part of the Morong 43) but could not escape the military’s hounding and perennial red-tagging. He left us on Good Friday after being stricken with tuberculosis while managing his diabetes; his hospital confinement upon court order being the last we could do for him,” PILC said.

“May by his passion and death remind us of continuing injustice, and strengthen our spirits in the struggle,” the group added.

Karapatan lists 548 political prisoners in the country as of March 30, at least 225 of whom were arrested under Duterte.

In 2016, Duterte promised to release all political prisoners through a general amnesty as part of confidence-building measures for the resumption of formal peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Duterte subsequently ordered to prioritize the release of sickly and old political prisoners but failed to deliver beyond the 19 NDFP peace consultants who participated in the negotiations in Europe.

Duterte terminated the peace process with the NDFP in November 2017.

Six NDFP consultants have since been arrested, including, Rafael Baylosis, Vicente Ladlad, Rey Claro Casambre and Frank Fernandez who were not among those allowed to post bail to join the talks. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Third political prisoner dies under Duterte

Another political prisoner died, bringing to three the number of activist detainees who failed to gain freedom despite repeated promises of freedom by Rodrigo Duterte earlier in his presidency.

Alex Arias, 63 years old, was declared dead on arrival at the Rizal Medical Center in Pasig City at about 7:30 Sunday night due to a heart attack, the eve of the International Human Rights Day.

Arias suffered from hypertension and diabetes mellitus type 2.

Arias was a former chairperson of Pagkakaisa at Ugnayan ng mga Magbubukid sa Laguna, an affiliate of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.

He was arrested on April 7, 2012 on kidnapping with murder and frustrated homicide charges.

He was detained in Metro Manila District Jail Annex 4 (formerly SICA 1).

Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights said the cases were trumped up.

Karapatan added that Arias was among the 160 sickly and elderly political prisoners the Duterte government promised to release as part of goodwill measures for the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

On November 28, 2016, peasant leader Bernabe Ocasla died of cardiac arrest. He was afflicted with hypertension and rheumatic heart disease while in prison.

On September 12, 2017, 74-year old Marcos Aggalao, who was suffering from pneumonia, dementia and hypertension, died at the Kalinga Provincial Hospital.

Karapatan said that the death of three political prisoners under the Duterte government is in stark contrast to its special treatment of convicted plunderer Imelda Marcos as well as other high government officials who have been released despite their crimes against the Filipino people.

Various group held a candle lightning and vigil in Southern Tagalog Sunday night Arias. # (Joseph Cueva/Raymund B. Villanueva)

Free Ben and Rita Alliance to launch in forum on political persecution

The Free Ben and Rita Alliance that calls for the release of development workers Benito Quilloy and Rita Espinoza will have a Southern Tagalog launching this September 13 at the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) from 2 pm to 5 pm.

Benito Quilloy and Rita Espinoza were illegally arrested on October 19, 2017 in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental after conducting a series of consultations with members of the National Federation of Sugarworkers (NFSW) on appropriate development projects that the latter can undertake.

About ten members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) forcibly took them, handcuffed, blindfolded and brought them to the Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr. in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental.

They were denied legal counsel and subjected to several interrogations.

None of those who interrogated them identified themselves.

They were brought to Camp Crame on October 21 without the knowledge of their lawyers.

On June 8, 2018 they were sneaked out of Camp Crame and brought to the Bayugan Police Station.

They were disallowed to bring with them their maintenance medicines and some personal belongings.

They are now detained at the Butuan City Jail in Agusan del Norte.

Quilloy and Espinoza are facing trumped-up charges.

Both are accused of illegal possession of firearms and illegal possession of explosives in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental. Quilloy has a murder and two cases of multiple murder in Bayugan, Agusan del Sur while Espinoza has robbery, arson and kidnapping charges also in Bayugan, Agusan del Sur. She also has a murder case in Zamboanga del Norte.

Quilloy is a Convenor and Senior Consultant while Espinoza is Project Staff of the Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network (ASCENT), a non-government organization that promotes and defends economic, social and cultural rights.

They have worked with poor peasants and indigenous peoples since their student days.

Quilloy, 64, is only a few units away from completing his Sugar Technology degree at UPLB while Espinoza, 61 is a high school graduate.

The Southern Tagalog (ST) launching of the Free Ben and Rita Alliance at UPLB is also a symbolic homecoming for Quilloy who was among the first UPLB students to work for the establishment of the student council during the Marcos years.

He also became President of the UPLB Chemical Society who eventually helped in organizing peasants in Southern Tagalog provinces.

Dubbed “Blindfolded: The Case of Ben and Rita, Forum on Political Persecution under the Duterte Regime”, the ST forum will have as speakers former Congressman Rafael Mariano, Sr. Patricia Fox, Atty. Maria Sol Taule of KARAPATAN, Professor Edward Deveza, and Atty. Filemon Nolasco of the Movement Against Tyranny – Southern Tagalog (MAT-ST).

Meanwhile, Quilloy’s family has likewise called for the release of Quilloy and Espinoza.

Millet Quilloy-Magsino, his elder sister said in a statement, “We strongly condemn the illegal arrest of Benito C. Quilloy and Rita Espinoza. Benito has been a kind and caring son and brother. We know him to be a principled man who has worked for the poor and marginalized sectors since his student days at the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB).”

“Our family has been worrying about him since his arrest as he is suffering from hypertension and has difficulty in moving around due to a total hip replacement operation. He experienced chest pains when he and Rita were surreptitiously transferred from Camp Crame to Bayugan Police Station. Some of our siblings cannot stop from crying every time we think about him because he is far from us. We cannot understand why he is being punished for crimes he did not commit,” Magsino added.

“We demand for his immediate release. Free our brother Benito C. Quilloy and his colleague Rita Espinoza,” Magsino ended. #

Activist among this year’s Sampung Ulirang Nakatatanda awardee

A farmers’ rights activist and former political detainee was named among the honorees of this year’s Sampung Ulirang Nakatatanda (SUN) Award in a ceremony held at the Social Security System’s Ramon Magsaysay Hall in Quezon City Sunday.

Angelina Ipong, thrice detained and heavily tortured for her activism, was honored by the Coalition of Services of the Elderly, Inc. for her lifelong work with agricultural workers for just wages and democratic rights.

Ipong  was honored along with Eduardo Albonia (79, Bulacan), Bandayan Danwata (79, Davao Occidental), Erlinda Libor (76, Pampanga), Ceilia Ruiz (80, Baguio City), Anita Castor (64, Capiz), Esperanza Escoton (72, Quezon City), Josef Feliciano (71, Navotas City), Salvacion Garcia (64, Negros Occidental), and Leonita Labitag (73, Antipolo City).

In her acceptance speech, Ipong thanked her farmer father and the peasant sector.

Ipong accepting her Sampung Ulirang Nakatatanda 2017 award. (Contributed photo)

Sila ang nagmulat sa akin, sila ang nagbigay sa akin ng buhay. Kaya gusto kong ilaan ang nalalabi pang panahon ng aking buhay sa kanila,” Ipong said.

The 72 year-old mother of one said she spent majority of her adult life as an activist because of the injustices suffered by poor peasants.

Ang magsasaka ang lumilikha ng pagkain ng bansa pero sila ay gutom at lugmok sa kahirapan. Sila ang naglilinang ng lupa ngunit sila ang walang lupa,” Ipong said.

Pito sa sampung magsasaka ang walang lupa. Atrasadong agrikultura, walang pag-unlad sa kanayunan.  Hanggang kalian ba magpapatuloy itong ganitong kalagayan?” she asked.

Ipong, who currently works with the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, was first detained in 1992 and again in November 1995.

She was abducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in 2005 when she was accused to be a top commander of the New People’s Army in Northern Mindanao and slapped with rebellion, double murder, double attempted murder and arson charges.

At the start of her third and longest detention, Ipong was blindfolded for days, tortured and sexually-harassed.  She was also kept in isolation for 14 days.

Ipong acting out her torture for the One Billion Rising-Philippines video. (R. Villanueva)

Activist even in jail

In jail, Ipong said she could not stand the filth in their cells and bathrooms. She organized and led the cleaning brigades and soon managed to bring down cases of skin and other diseases among inmates.

“I asked my friends who visited me to bring me soap, brushes, paint and other supplies so we can clean the jail facility,” Ipong told Kodao in an earlier interview.

She soon trained her sights on her fellow inmates’ nutrition who were forced to eat nothing but poor prison food “unfit for humans.”

“I initiated dialogues with the wardens who eventually gave in to my incessant demands to be allowed to start an organic gardening program inside the jail compound,” she said.

In no time, the garden Ipong started supplemented their prison food with fresh and organically-grown vegetables daily.

Naku, ang mga guwardiya nga, nauuna pang mamitas ng mga gulay namin kasi masarap, fresh, organic at libre,” she said.

Ipong also started a livelihood program to allow fellow inmates to earn and help their families.

When she was arbitrarily transferred in the middle of the night to another jail facility, she started all over and again succeeded until the courts dismissed all charges against her and set free in 2011.

Ipong co-authored the book on human rights A Red Rose for Andrea: Writings from Prison (Quezon City: Southern Voices Printing Press) a year after release.

Secret to a long and productive life

In her speech, Ipong said the secret to her long, productive and eventful life is keeping healthy, staying young at heart and commitment to serving the people.

Ipong said she still asks to this day how she can contribute to improving the lives of poor peasants in the Philippines.

Paano natin matuturuan ang magsasaka na umasa sa sarili, gampanan ang tungkulin na paunlarin ang atrasadong agrikultura at krudong teknolohiya, maging ng buong  kanayunan?” she asked in her speech.

Ipong said the youth should be encouraged to contribute in the development of the countryside.

Gusto kong patuloy na magturo lalo na sa mga kabataan. Hinihikayat at hinahamon ko kayo—lalo na ang young agriculturists, engineers, technicians, farmers, scientists, teachers, artists—na tumulong tayo,” she said.

“Share your time, talent and especially your commitment. We need you.  Let us join our hands with the farmers in their struggle for food, for land, for scientific development and for justice,” she added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Postcard from Holland

(To Ka Presy, My Captive Comrade-Wife)

 

Sweet kisses and warm embraces

From me, here in a far away land

Of bicycles, canals and windmills.

I’m sorry to say

There are no mountains here

To scale, but only flatlands to thread.

Yet there are tulips and sunflowers blooming

And flocks of birds flying freely.

 

What scenery to behold!

But then, often suddenly,

Pain pinches my heart

For I remember you

My beloved captive comrade-wife

And four hundred and thirty more–

Comrades in various cages still

Across our country fondly dubbed

By lording foreign pirates

And their local quislings

As the “Pearl of the Orient Seas.”

 

Oh, how happy would I be

If you and other comrades

Would soon be free

Like these flocks of birds

Freely flying, measuring

The boundless blue sky.

 

                            — Ruben Abenir Saluta

                                      Revised from earlier version

                  13 October 2016

                                 Utrecht, The Netherlands

(The poet is a National Democratic Front of the Philippines Negotiating Panel consultant. He was a political detainee.)