A bishop asked for executive clemency for two political detainees, mother and son Morita and Selman Alegre, after the death of their patriarch and fellow prisoner of conscience Jesus who died last June 13.
In a public appeal, San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza asked President Rodrigo Duterte and justice secretary Menardo Guevarra to grant clemency to both mother and son or for the review of their conviction.
“As the shepherd of the Diocese of San Carlos, which counts the late Jesus Alegre and his family among its members, I appeal to President Rodrigo Duterte and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to allow the widowed Morita and her son Selman to attend the wake and the June 30 funeral of their beloved Jesus, who had been separated from them by prison for the last 16 years,” the bishop also said.
The prelate announced that the remains of Jesus would be flown to Bacolod city in accordance with his wife Morita’s wishes for a full body burial for him in their home town of Sagay City.
“Morita is now 74 years old, and she and her son Selman have earned, through more than 16 years of pain and suffering, the right to be set free and live their remaining years with their loved ones,” Alminaza said.
The bishop said he is convinced the Alegres were victims of injustice.
“Kapatid, a support organization of political prisoners in the country, has documented the Alegres’ case extensively and came up with the conclusion that the case against them was clearly false and fabricated,” he said.
“With his death, Jesus Alegre is now free at last from worldly greed, oppression and injustice. But his widow and son, both unjustly convicted and imprisoned for the last 16 years, continue to languish and suffer in separate jails,” he added.
Alminaza also appealed for the freedom of the many poor who are similarly situated as the Alegres.
“Land grabbing is an old and persistent problem in Negros where the wealthy and powerful families have used both private and government instrumentalities to defeat the poor’s rights over their small parcels of land,” he said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
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The country’s second oldest political prisoner died at the Ospital ng Muntinlupa on Sunday, June 13.
Jesus Alegre, 75 years old, showed physical weakness and disorientation after suffering diarrhea and swollen limbs last June 11, political prisoner support group Kapatid said.
Alegre also vomited and could no longer sit or stand without support but was rushed to the said hospital only last Sunday, the group said.
It was unclear if Alegre was tested for the COVID-19 virus upon admission at the hospital.
Kapatid said that as early as February this year, Alegre’s health condition was deteriorating and he was in fact diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, type 2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and possible chronic kidney disease.
Alegre was a 16-year inmate at at the New Bilibid Prison’s Maximum Security Compound, along with 74 year-old wife Moreta and son Selman.
A family of poor farmers, the Alegres were wrongfully convicted on a trumped-up charge of murder in 2005, Kapatid said.
Kapatid said due to their advanced ages, the Alegres were among the political prisoners the group lobbied for release on humanitarian grounds.
The Alegres were also listed in Kapatid’s April 2020 petition urging the the Supreme Court to release prisoners vulnerable to COVID-19.
Last week, Kapatid also called on the Supreme Court to issue a Writ of Kalayaan to decongest jails amid the coronavirus pandemic, prioritizing elderly and sick political detainees.
Kapatid said that Alegre’s death shows the terrible state of the country’s highly congested prisons that expose prisoners to greater danger from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alegre was the third political prisoner to have died this year after peasant leader Joseph Canlas succumbed to Covid-19 and Maximo Redota suffered a stroke without receiving medical attention.
Kapatid demanded an investigation into Alegre’s death “to ascertain the responsibility and accountability of government agencies in looking after the health and safety of persons deprived of liberty.”
The oldest political detainee is 82-year old Gerardo dela Peña. #
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A support group for political detainees pressed the government to start inoculating prisoners, citing the higher possibility of coronavirus outbreaks inside the country’s overcrowded and poorly-ventilated jail facilities.
“Kapatid presses the national government to release a clear schedule for the vaccination of all prisoners, including the 704 political prisoners, in the national deployment plan for COVID-19 vaccines because the congested prison system places them at significant higher risk for the disease,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said.
The group Kapatid made the call after justice secretary Menardo Guevarra said that ordinary prisoners are not yet part of the priority list for the government’s vaccination activities against the increasingly contagious and deadly COVID-19.
Guevarra said that only elderly prisoners are eligible for early vaccination.
“[W]hile waiting for their turn to get vaccinated like the rest of the population, these [non-elderly] PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) will just have to follow minimum health protocols to reduce the risk of viral transmission,” Guevarra, Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) Against COVID-19 member, said.
Lim said Guevarra’s statement however contradicts an earlier assurance by the Department of Health (DOH) that “all persons deprived of liberty as determined by Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) are included under the Priority Eligible Group B-9.”
Kapatid asked DOH secretary and IATF Against COVID-19 chairperson Francisco Duque last March 2 to included all prisoners among the first to be vaccinated as part of the most “at-risk populations.”
DOH undersecretary and National Vaccine Operations Center chairperson Dr. Myrna Cabotaje told the rights group that prisoners are already identified for inclusion in the priority eligible population on the basis of stratifying the risks for contracting COVID-19 infection.
“So we quote to Secretary Guevarra the very words of the DOH in their reply to us: ‘Health is an absolute human right. No Filipino will be denied their right to get vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccine. The national government assures you that every consenting Filipino will receive the appropriate COVID-19 vaccine, to protect the life and health of every citizen, including all Political Prisoners,’” she added
“Shouldn’t the DOJ and the whole national government be saying the same thing to everyone?” Lim asked.
Lim said it is ironic that the DOJ whose mandate includes the supervision of the BuCor should contradict the DOH statement and ignore the plight of over 215,000 prisoners compelled to live in subhuman conditions.
“This apparently may be yet another case of mismanagement from the top that results in mixed messaging,” Lim said.
Kapatid said extreme congestion inside the country’s prisons makes them “death traps” during the pandemic.
In November 2019, the BJMP reported that its 467 jails nationwide were at 534 percent of capacity as of March of that year while the BuCor said that the congestion rate in its 125 prisons was at 310 percent as of January 2019.
In October 2018, the Commission on Human Rights said “deplorable jail conditions” in the country are aggravated by the failure of the government, including police officers, to faithfully comply with even the minimum human rights standards and laws, such as the Anti-Torture Act (RA 9745). # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
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Pumanaw noong gabi ng Biyernes, Oktubre 9, ang tatlong buwang gulang na anak ng bilanggong pulitikal na si Reina Mae Nasino dahil sa matinding kumplikasyon sa baga. Wala pang dalawang buwan nang inilayo ang sanggol na si River sa kanyang ina dahil sa gawa-gawang kaso.
Tinanggihan ng Korte Suprema ang petisyon ni Nasino na hayaang siyang alagaan ang anak sa piitan kahit isang taon lamang. Makailang-ulit na nag-apila ang mga abogado ni Nasino upang pansamantalang makalaya hanggang pumanaw na ang sanggol. Ang pagkakasakit ng sanggol ay dahil sa hindi ito napasuso ng ina na nagdulot ng mahinang pangangatawan nito.
Nagsagawa ang mga progresibong grupo, sa pangunguna ng BAYAN-Metro Manila ng indignation rally noong Sabado, Oktubre 10, sa Maynila. Ipinanawagan ng mga grupo ang hustisya para kay Baby River at pansamantalang pagpapalaya kay Reina bago ilibing ang anak. Kasama rin sa kanilang panawagan ang pagpapalaya sa mga bilanggong pulitikal at pagpapanagot sa gubyernong Rodrigo Duterte sa kaliwa’t kanang mga gawa-gawang kaso at paghuli sa mga aktibista nito.
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KAPATID, the families of political detainees, calls on the Supreme Court to “vote for life” and release all the vulnerable political prisoners amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fides Lim, Spokesperson of KAPATID, said that they are hoping that the High Court would heed their call especially after Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta’s statement last week that the families’ petition can be decided yesterday, June 16.
The Supreme Court has to decide on the petition, however.
Philippine prisons are more than 500% overcrowded, giving fears of the spread of the coronavirus among inmates. # (Video by Jek Alcaraz)
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“Nanawagan na ang United Nations na upang maiwasan ang higit pang delubyo na maaring idulot ng COVID-19, magpalaya na ng mga nakakulong. Palayain na yung matatanda, may sakit, low-risk offenders, kabilang dito ang mga bilanggong politikal sa bansa. Ayon sa BJMP, noong October 2019, umabot na ng 450% yung congestion rate o 380 out of 467 jails ay congested o siksikan. Sa kasalukuyan, merong 609 na bilanggong pulitikal sa bansa. 63 dyan may sakit, 47 mga matatanda na, 100 ay mga kababaihan. Huwag na nating hintayin pa na madagdagan ang bilang nila.”
Roneo “Jigs” Clamor Deputy Secretary General, KARAPATAN
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The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) extended its unilateral ceasefire until the end of the month to concentrate on its efforts to help contain the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement Thursday, April 16, the CPP said its Central Committee has ordered the extension for 15 more days starting April 15 “prioritize the fight against the pandemic and ensure the safety, health and well-being of everyone.”
The extended ceasefire order is effective until 11:59 p.m. of April 30
“The CPP ordered the units of the NPA (New People’s Army) and the people’s militias to continue to desist and cease from carrying out offensive military actions against the armed units and personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP) and other paramilitary and armed groups attached to the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP),” its information office said in a statement.
The group said the aim of the ceasefire extension is to ensure quick and unimpeded support to all people requiring urgent medical, health and socioeconomic assistance in the face of the public emergency over the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Party said all its revolutionary forces are ever ready to cooperate with all other forces and elements to achieve this objective.
Meanwhile, the CPP leadership commended all units of the NPA and people’s militias for their discipline in observing the ceasefire order and shifting priority to the anti-Covid-19 campaign.
It said that the Party’s ceasefire order has been observed “despite the difficulties and dangers brought about by the continuing occupation of AFP combat troops of guerrilla zones and base areas, the widespread and intense intelligence and psywar (psychological warfare) operations, and the attacks mounted by the AFP’s strike forces against detected NPA units.”
The CPP Central Committee reminded all NPA units to “maintain strictest secrecy” and not allow themselves to be exposed to AFP attacks.
The recent armed encounters which the AFP misreport as NPA ceasefire violations are all a result of the offensive actions of the AFP, it alleged.
The ceasefire extension order came after the National Democratic Front of the Philippines wrote to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres complaining of violations by the Rodrigo Duterte administration of the government’s own unilateral ceasefire declaration of March 19 to April 15.
The AFP conducted military operations in 196 villages and 96 towns throughout the Philippines, the NDFP said quoting CPP reports.
In its statement, the CPP also reiterated the call for the “urgent release” and for declaring a general amnesty for all political prisoners.
It also expressed desire for the resumption of the NDFP-GRP peace negotiations.
“During the ceasefire period, all NPA units must strictly limit themselves to active defense operations which shall be carried out only in the face of imminent danger and actual armed attacks by the enemy forces,” the CPP reiterated.
The GRP has yet to comment on whether it would extend its own ceasefire declaration which has expired before midnight Wednesday, April 15. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
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Political detainees and their families filed an appeal to the Supreme Court to have vulnerable prison populations released on humanitarian grounds amid the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
In a petition filed Wednesday morning, April 8, the group Kapatid seeks the High Tribunal’s “compassionate intervention” and “exercise of equity jurisdiction” for the release of select prisoners, including political detainees.
The lead petitioners are 22 political prisoners who are mostly elderly and sick, including six women, one of whom has leprosy while another is five-months pregnant.
Kapatid said the petitioners are all vulnerable to the highly infectious virus.
“They are held in prison facilities in Metro Manila where it is practically impossible to practice self-isolation, physical distancing, and other Covid-19 precautions,” Kapatid said in a statement.
The group said they are also calling for the release of all other sick and elderly prisoners on humanitarian grounds, including those who are about to finish their prison terms or are about to be paroled or pardoned.
Kapatid cited United Nations High Commisioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s appeal to have vulnerable prisoners released in order to decongest prisons that might serve as Covid-19 incubators.
Iran, Egypt, and most recently Morocco have released tens of thousands of prisoners in an effort to prevent the spread of disease in the mostly congested penal institutions.
Earlier, human rights group Karapatan, citing official reports, said that Philippine prisons are bursting with 450% overcapacity, making the prison populations vulnerable to Covid-19.
In its petition, Kapatid recommends the creation of a prisoner release committee, similar to those set up in other countries, “to urgently study and implement the release of all other prisoners in various congested prisons throughout the country who are similarly vulnerable but cannot be included in this Petition due to the difficult circumstances.”
Such mechanism shall be in charge of issuing “ground rules relevant to the release of eligible prisoners.”
Eligible prisoners should include low-level offenders as well as those eligible for parole, including 44 political prisoners in Bureau of Correction (BuCor) facilities, the group recommends.
“[We] pray for the Honorable Court’s compassion and protection of their right to life and health amid the Covid-19 pandemic. (We) pray that they be released on humanitarian considerations through bail, recognizance or other non-custodial measures. The continued incarceration of the sick and elderly would be a virtual death sentence,” the petition reads.
The Office of the Solicitor General, Department of Interior and Local Government secretary Eduardo Año, Department of Justice secretary Menardo Guevarra, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology director Allan Iral, BuCor director Gerald Bantag, and six wardens are the named respondents of the petition. The petitioners are Dionisio Almonte, Ireneo Atadero Jr., Emmanuel Bacarra, Oscar Belleza, spouses Alexander and Winona Birondo, Lilia Bucatcat, Rey Casambre, Ferdinand Castillo, spouses Francisco Fernandez Jr. and Cleofe Lagtapon, Renante Gamara, Vicente Ladlad, Ediesel Legaspi, Norberto Murillo, Reina Nasino (pregnant), Ge-Ann Perez (leprosy), Oliver Rosales, Adelberto Silva, Dario Tomada, and spouses Alberto and Virginia Villamor.
Kapatid was assisted by the Public Interest Law Center and the National Union of People’s Lawyers in drafting and filing the petition. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
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Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) joined UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s call for the freedom of all political prisoners in the time of the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic to save them from possibly contracting the virus in the often crowded and inhumane conditions of jails worldwide, especially in the Philippines. The action was also in response to the online campaign of human rights group Karapatan this 7-8 pm ofTuesday, March 31.
Amid the intensifying dangers presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, Karapatan and other human rights groups as well as religious leaders called on the Rodrigo Duterte the government to free the more than 500 political prisoners in the Philippines. They also called for the release of other prisoners, especially the elderly, pregnant, women and nursing mothers and those who are due for parole or pardon. # (Jek Alcaraz)
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political detainees urged the government to follow World Health Organization
(WHO) guidelines and start mass testing in prisons after receiving reports that
some prisoners are showing symptoms of the corona virus disease (Covid-19).
The group KAPATID said that mass testing should start immediately as it has received reports that more inmates are getting sick despite denials by prison agencies and the Department of Interior and Local Government of confirmed cases.
“Marami nagkakasakit, inuubo at nilalagnat,” KAPATID said, citing a report from relatives of political prisoners at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), the national penitentiary at Muntinlupa City. (Many are getting sick, coughing and getting fevers.)
The group said three political prisoners are now reportedly ill with fever at the political prisoners’ wing at the Metro Manila District Jail-Annex 4 (MMDJ-4) at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City.
KAPATID said the three unnamed political detainees are showing common Covid-19 symptoms like fever, headaches, cold, cough and body weakness—the same symptoms for the respiratory disease which has already killed 45 people in the country as of March 25, including nine doctors.
“KAPATID cannot emphasize enough why mass testing is imperative and why it must include the whole prison population comprising both inmates and prison personnel. Reports by other countries such as China and the US indicate that prison guards brought the sickness into prison facilities even with lockdowns in place and stricter health measures, including a forehead thermal scan of persons entering jail premises,” KAPATID spokesperson Fides Lim said in a statement
Lim cited scientific researches that early action through widespread testing has proven effective in controlling the rapid spread of the disease in South Korea and Germany which have managed to keep the Covid-19 death rate relatively low through extensive testing.
“Mass testing of both symptomatic individuals and all those who came into contact with them was crucial in catching the disease, isolating the carriers before they could pass it on, and providing more accurate figures of how many are really affected and how and where to limit contamination,” Lim said.
Free political detainees
called for the release of political detainees in line with reports that
backchannel meetings between Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP)
representatives and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in
The Netherlands have been discussing the matter.
The NDFP urged the
GRP to release all political prisoners and a general amnesty be issued “as a
matter of justice and necessity.”
The NDFP made the
appeal when the Communist Party of the Philippines declared a unilateral ceasefire
last Tuesday, March 24, in response to the United Nations appeal for all warring
parties to temporarily lay down arms to concentrate on responding to the
Kapatid cited the move made by Iran and Egypt to release tens of thousands of prisoners, including political detainees, in a bid to decongest their prisons and prevent Covid-19’s spread through overpopulated jail facilities.
“KAPATID continues to press the humanitarian release of prisoners in line with the new UN (United Nations) call as the most expedient solution to protect and save lives. Tao rin sila,” Lim said. (They are also humans.)
The National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP), the largest group of mainline Protestant churches in the country, also urged the government to release all political detainees following the appeal by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on March 26.
“Let’s take it from the UN. There is an urgent need to address the catastrophic risks in prisons by releasing prisoners, especially now that the country is confronting numerous challenges due to this pandemic,” Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, NCCP General Secretary, said.
“As the number of positive COVID-19 cases spike up, the most Christian thing to do is to leave no one behind. Don’t forget those in prison, especially human rights defenders facing trumped charges, who have staunchly worked for social justice and human rights. They need compassion, they need justice and they need protection. They should be released under humanitarian grounds,” Marigza said in a statement.
“In many countries, detention facilities are overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so. People are often held in unhygienic conditions and health services are inadequate or even non-existent. Physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible,” Bachelet said in her appeal for political detainees’ release.
rights group Karapatan announced it will lead an online campaign on Facebook
and Twitter to urge the freedom of
prisoners with light sentences as well as political detainees on March 31,
Tuesday, at seven to eight o’clock in the evening.
congestion of Philippine jails at 450%, Karapatan said the government must free
the elderly, sick, pregnant and nursing women, those who are due for parole or
pardon, at least one spouse each of political prisoner-couples, and “accidental
victims” of political arrests. # (Raymund
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