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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. #

Baylosis files contempt charges against warden

Detained National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant Rafael Baylosis filed  a petition for indirect contempt Friday against the warden of the Metro Manila District Jail-4 for refusing to release him despite a court order.

In his petition filed at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QC-RTC), Baylosis said Jail Chief Inspector Jojie Jonathan Pangan’s refusal to release him is an act constituting improper conduct.

Pangan’s snub of the court order tend to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice, is disobedience to a lawful order, and tantamount to disrespect to the authority of the court, Baylosis said.

Branch 100 of the QC-RTC ordered Baylosis’s release last June 14 upon his posting of a bail bond to allow him to participate in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.

Baylosis’s release order is valid and existing despite yet another cancellation of formal talks between the NDFP and the Rodrigo Duterte government, Baylosis’s lawyer and Public Interest Law Center (PILC) managing counsel Rachel Pastores said in a statement.

“[Baylosis] has no warrant of arrest in any other case. So there’s no reason for the jail warden to disobey the release order,” Pastores said.

“His continued, unreasonable refusal to implement it is a contemptuous act which not only violates Baylosis’ rights.  It clearly shows disdain of the court which must be punished,” Pastores explained.

“The warden is not above the law.  He is mandated to follow the rules and the law. It is in the public interest that warden’s willful defiance of a court order be sanctioned,” she stressed.

Baylosis was to participate in the scheduled preliminary meetings and formal talks in The Netherlands and Norway earlier this month as a member of the NDFP’s Ceasefire Committee.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process as well as the Department of Justice has reportedly posed no objection to the PILC’s petition for bail for Baylosis to allow him to negotiate the aborted coordinated unilateral ceasefire (CUC) between the NDFP and GRP.

Baylosis has been part of the peace negotiations in various capacities since 1996.

Arrested with a companion in Quezon City last February, Baylosis is facing charges of illegal possession of firearm and explosive at RTC Quezon City, Branch 100.

Pastores said the charges are trumped up by the Philippine National Police. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

74-year political prisoner dies while in hospital detention

BANGKOK, Thailand–A 74-year old political detainee arrested under President Rodrigo Duterte died in a Philippine hospital Tuesday.

Marcos Aggalao, a veteran of the struggle against Ferdinand Marcos’ Chico Dam project, died while on hospital arrest at the Kalinga Provincial Hospital in Tabuk September 12 from complications arising from multiple strokes he suffered in detention.

The victim suffered his third stroke in prison last August 29. He also suffered dementia.

Aggalao is the second political prisoner who had died in detention under the Duterte regime. Both were elderly and sickly.

On November 2016, Bernabe Ocasla, 66, a peasant organizer detained in Metro Manila City Jail also died after being in a coma for three days and subsequently suffered a heart attack.

Aggalao was arrested September 10, 2016 by the Kalinga Philippine National Police on charges of frustrated murder and murder, among others.

Aggalao hailed from Balbalan, Kalinga province, one of the many communities in the Cordilleras that fought the Marcos dictatorship.

“Sandugo holds the Duterte regime accountable for the death of 74-year old political prisoner because he failed to fullfill his commitment to release all political prisoners, especially the elderly and the ailing,” national minorities group Sandugo in a statement said.

“To him [Duterte], political prisoners are simply trump cards he can use to force the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) into a bilateral and permanent ceasefire agreement ahead of the agreement on social and economic reforms that includes guarantees on the rights of the national minorities to their ancestral lands and territories,” Sandugo added.

The group said Aggalao is another addition to a long list of those who have given their lives and prime years “to fight tyranny.”

“But Duterte, in complete disregard [of history], acts to reverse this…He has consistently moved towards the political rehabilitation of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was responsible for the multiple crimes of genocide against the Bangsamoro and the widespread dispossession of the national minorities of their ancestral lands,” Sandugo said.

Human rights group Karapatan for its part said Aggalao’s death is “enraging.”

Karapatan said Duterte’s “cheap tricks” to turn political prisoners into trump cards and deny them freedom have cost them their lives.

“It is not only their illness that have caused their deaths, but this government’s injustice and inaction. For every political prisoner who dies, ultimately, the GRP is accountable,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay in a statement said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

 

4 POWs, 23 political prisoners to be released soon—NDFP, GRP

NOORDWIJK, The Netherlands—The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) held a press conference this morning (local time) to reiterate their respective commitments to expedite the release of New People’s Army (NPA) prisoners of war (POWs) on one hand and political prisoners in the other.

“The NDFP today reiterates and confirms the February 19, 2017 statement of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) directing the concerned NPA units to expedite the release of the six captured POWs still in their custody as a ‘positive gesture’ for the ongoing fourth round of the peace talks,” the NDFP said.

Last March 25, however, two POWs, paramilitary members Rene Doller and Mark Nocus, captured in Lupon, Davao Oriental on February 14, were already released by their NPA custodial force to the members of the Third Party Facilitators and Independent Humanitarian Mission (TPFIHM) in Mati City, Davao Oriental.

The GRP said its security forces are amenable to suspending military and police operations for 10 days to allow the NPA to affect the POW releases to TPFIHM members.

The four (4) remaining POWs are PFC Edwin Salan (captured in Alegria, Surigao del Norte on January 29); Sgt. Solaiman Calucop (captured in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat on February 2); PFC Samuel Garay (also captured in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat on February 2); and PO2 Jerome Natividad, captured in Talakag, Bukidnon on February 9.

The GRP for its part said it will soon release 23 NDFP-listed political prisoners held in various jails across the Philippines.

The GRP said most of the political prisoners to be released on humanitarian grounds are sick and elderly.

Four of the 23 political prisoners were convicted, including three NDFP consultants, who will be released through presidential pardon.

The NDFP and GRP said the agreement to expedite the releases of POWs and political prisoners are part of the successes of the ongoing round of talks. # (Video by Jola Diones-Mamangun / Text by Raymund B. Villanueva / Featured photo by Jon Bustamante)