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Prisoners’ support group asks poll body to extend voters’ registration

A prisoners’ support group asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to extend the deadline to the ongoing voters’ registration to allow persons denied of liberty (PDL) to vote in next year’s national and local elections.

With just two weeks before the September 30 deadline, the group Kapatid said an extension shall allow prisoners’ to still “make a difference” through their votes

Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said, “It is important for PDLs, especially those wrongly imprisoned for crimes they did not commit – the Philippines’ political prisoners – to register and have their votes counted in the 2022 elections.”

“Imprisonment does not disenfranchise them of their right to vote and to have a say in the outcome of the upcoming crucial presidential elections,” Lim explained.

Kapatid’s request is the latest in the growing clamor for the Comelec to extend the deadline after a series of recent pandemic lockdowns severely limited the number of registrations the poll body could accept.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez however said the election commissioners are firm in sticking to the deadline as a strict preparation schedule has already been set for next year’s polls.

But Lim said the big number of eligible voters among PDLs may run of time to register or reactivate their registration within the remaining two weeks.

She said their group received reports that voters’ registration forms were being distributed in some jails.

“But as prisons remain in continuing lockdown, the Comelec has to move the deadline of registration and also push voter education to draw in more detainees eligible to vote,” Lim said.

Kapatid said about 74% of the country’s over 200,000 PDLs are still qualified to vote as they are still under trial while an undetermined number of those convicted have their cases under appeal.

“There are over 148,000 votes out there in jail facilities, and count in the votes too of their eligible family members. If they can all cast their ballots in May 2022 and vote for ‘worthy’ candidates, along with their relatives, they can make a difference,” Lim said.

Lim, wife of political prisoner and National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultant Vicente Ladlad, said next year’s election is crucial as voters, including PDLs, can hold politicians responsible for illegal arrests and murder, accountable for their “crimes against humanity.”

“The elections in 2022 could be a make or break as our country’s fragile institutions take a beating as never before in the hands of a President who pretends to shun the onus of accountability and culpability for his manifold human rights violations,” Lim said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups describe as ‘prank’ Duterte’s amnesty offer to Leftists

Political detainees as well as human rights groups and lawyers slammed as “prank” the Rodrigo Duterte government’s offer of amnesty to Leftist political prisoners, designed to prevent future peace negotiations from happening.

In a statement read in a recent online forum, six political prisoners condemned Proclamation 1093 offering amnesty to suspected and convicted Leftist rebels as an instrument of “continuing oppression.”

“Proclamation 1093 will not provide genuine amnesty. This cannot be the means for the release of political prisoners,” detained National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultants Vicente Ladlad, Rey Casambre, Ferdinand Castillo, Frank Fernandez, Reynante Gamara and Adelberto Silva said.

President Duterte signed last February 16 proclamations 1090, 1091, 1092 and 1093 granting amnesty to suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Mangagawa ng Pilipinas/Revolutionary Proletarian Army/Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPMP-RPA-ABB) and “Communist Terrorist Group” members, respectively.

The House of Representatives concurred under its Concurrent Resolution No. 15 approved last May 19, but the Senate has yet to react to the edicts.

In a statement, Kapatid said that while political prisoners are not closing the door to a grant of amnesty, it is “…totally unjust that those foisted with false charges will own up to crimes they did not commit just to be able to leave prison.”

Kapatid said that for the political prisoners, Proclamation 1093 that refers to Leftist rebels is “fake” and a “trap” because:

1. Amnesty will be granted only to “rebels” who had surrendered or those referred to as “rebel returnees;”

2. It will not be granted to most political prisoners who were arrested, detained, charged with or convicted of trumped-up criminal charges since they did not surrender;

3. It will not cover those who have been proscribed and charged and convicted under the Human Security Act of 2007 and the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020;

4. It puts the burden on political prisoners to prove that the crimes they supposedly committed were in furtherance of their political beliefs; and

5. The applicant must admit, in writing and under oath, their guilt on charges they are criminally liable for although the charges are falsified.

Kapatid said the political prisoners also condemned the use of the term “communist terrorist group” to “disparage and degrade the political standing” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the New People’s Army (NPA) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

The Duterte government has designated the three revolutionary organizations as terrorists in separate proclamations in 2017 and this year.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia said Proclamation 1093’s intention is suspect for its description of its supposed beneficiaries.

 “[T]he premise, framework, and implication of the use of the term ‘communist terrorist group’ render this kind of amnesty patently objectionable and unacceptable, legally and politically,” Olalia said.

“It is practically an institutionalized self-flagellation and it demeans political prisoners, using the dangle of inchoate freedom and the seduction of material bribery,” the human rights lawyer said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate noted that the amnesty being offered to Leftists are unlike those offered to the MILF, MNLF and the RPMP-RPA-ABB that were outcomes of peace agreements.

“[W]e should remember that this regime ended the peace negotiations. The amnesty is in fact based on Executive Order No. 70 – the government order which ended peace negotiations, justified imprisonment of activists, and paved the way for killing human rights defenders,” the legislator noted.

“The government said that it will no longer engage with peace negotiations but they are saying now that localized peace negotiations were held for former rebels to be granted amnesty. This amnesty proclamation is a ploy to totally prevent peace talks from transpiring,” Zarate, also a human rights lawyer, added.

The six detained NDFP peace consultants said they insist on “general, unconditional and omnibus amnesty.”

“General amnesty means it covers all political prisoners and other political offenders according to a pre-screened list. Unconditional amnesty means no preconditions will be imposed on political prisoners before they are set free. Omnibus amnesty means it will cover all court cases of political prisoners,” the detainees said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Bishop seeks clemency for mother-son political prisoners

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.

READ: 2nd oldest political prisoner dies in detention

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.

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

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)

‘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. #

2nd oldest political prisoner dies in detention

By Joseph Cuevas

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. #

Start inoculating prisoners, rights group presses gov’t

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.

‘Mixed messaging’

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.

 ‘Death traps’

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)

“Go home and tell them what you did today and why.”

“a) grotesque; b) merciless; c) heartless; d) callous; e) inhuman; f) shocking; g) unbelievable; h) overkill; i) all of the above & more.

Go home to your spouses, children, parents, friends, neighbors and classmates and tell them what you did today and why. Then pause and tell yourself in silence if they deserve to be proud of you.”Atty. Edre U. Olalia, President, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers

Hustisya, ipinanawagan para sa yumaong sanggol ng isang detenidong pulitikal

Hustisya ang panawagan ng iba’t ibang progresibong grupo para sa tatlong-buwang sanggol na si Baby River Emmanuelle na namatay dahil sa sakit na pnuemonia noong October 9. Ang sanggol ay inihiwalay sa kanyang ina na si Reina Mae Nasino , isang detenidong pulitikal, isang buwan pa lamang ng ito ay ipanganak.

Matatandaan na Abril pa lamang ay hinihiling na ng grupong Kapatid na palayain na si Nasino dahil ito ay nagdadalan-tao. Subalit hindi ito pinaboran ng korte. At nang ipanganak ang sanggol ay humiling naman sila ng isang taong pagsasama ng mag ina upang maalagaan ng husto at mapa-suso ito dahil sa mahinang pangangatawan ng bata.

Nagtipon at nagsagawa ng indignation rally ang iba’t ibang progresibong grupo sa Commission of Human Rights ngayong araw, Oktubre 14, upang ipanawagan ang hustisya para kay Baby River at upang kundenahin ang naging hakbang ng BJMP-Manila sa pagpapaikli ng oras ng dalaw ni Reina Mae Nasino sa lamay ng kanyang anak.

Indignation rally, isinagawa matapos ang pagpanaw ni Baby River

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.

Singil

(Alay kay Zara Alvarez)

Ni George Tumaob Calaor

Basa pa sa dugo

ni Ka Randall

ang iyong

mga kamay

labi niyay kamakailan lang hinimlay.

ngunit hayan!

Si Ka Zara naman

ang iyong pinaslang!

Oo nga’t muling magluluksa’t

hihibik ang Inang Bayan

at sa luhang

kanyang ipapatak

sa bawat buhay

na marahas mong

ibinaon sa hukay

ng pagkaganid mo’t

pagkagahaman

sa kapangyarihan

buntis na magluluwal

ang kanilang mga burol

sa daang libong mga kawal…

hustisya ay buong giting kakamitin!

At mula sa trono ng diktadurya mong

nanlilimahid sa dahas ng pagkapasista

paghahari mo ay mabubuwal!

Laya ng Bayan ay lubos nang itatanghal!