Rights group condemns conviction of peasant organizer

By Joseph Cuevas

Political prisoners support group Kapatid condemned the conviction of a land rights advocate for rebellion.

Dionisio Almonte, long-time peasant organizer in Laguna, was sentenced to life imprisonment (10-17 years) by Branch 266 of the Taguig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) last September 16.

Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said, “The sentence amounts to cruel and unusual punishment for Almonte who has more than suffered enough because of a trumped-up case.”

Prior to his conviction by Judge Marivic C. Vitor, Lim said Almonte had already suffered eight years of imprisonment “for choosing to help the poorest yet most neglected class in society, the farmers.”

Arrested in January 2014 on murder and frustrated murder charges, Almonte is currently detained at the Metro Manila District Jail in Taguig.

A native of Laguna, Almonte is a member of PUMALAG (Peasant Alliance of Laguna) since the 1980s.

Almonte’s wife Gloria said their family was shocked and saddened about the conviction but hopes it will be overturned upon appeal.

Worsening health

Gloria added that Dioniso’s health condition has worsened while in detention, worsening his lumbar spondylosis (degeneration of disks of the vertebrae) diagnosed prior to his arrest.

He has since been diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension. In 2017, he also suffered tuberculosis and has undergone isolation in prison.

Palala nang palala ang kalusugan ng asawa ko mula nang makulong siya,” Gloria said.

Gloria added that Almonte’s name was among those submitted by Kapatid to the Supreme Court for humanitarian release from crowded prisons when the coronavirus pandemic started, but was ignored.

2 farmer organizers walk free

Meanwhile, two peasant organizers in Isabela province were acquitted last October 5 by Branch 24 of the Echague RTC on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Solomon John Escopete and Danilo Estores were arrested in Jones, Isabela in April 2019, during the campaign period of the 2019 midterm elections.

Judge Michelle Gumpal-Videz said the prosecutors’ “[E]fforts (in presenting the evidence) resulted in a mediocre case that is nothing but lamentable” in acquitting the farmers. #

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)