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Oldest political prisoner freed; home-bound to give waiting wife a kiss

By Nuel M. Bacarra

The country’s oldest political prisoner, Gerardo dela Peña, 85, walked free Sunday night from the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City after more than a decade of imprisonment.

A former head of the the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensiyon at Aresto (SELDA)- Camarines Norte chapter, Dela Peña was arrested on March 21, 2013 by elements of the 49th Infantry Battalion in Brgy. Matango in Vinzons, Camarines Norte and convicted at age 75 for a murder case.

Political prisoner support group Kapatid however said dela Peña’s conviction for allegedly killing his own nephew was wrong as the New People’s Army admitted to the act.

Gerardo dela Peña walks free from the National Bilibid Prison after ‘wrongful arrest and conviction.’ (Kapatid photo)

Thin and frail, he carried a small bag containing his meager possessions and the Certificate of Discharge from Prison issued by the Bureau of Corrections last June 29.

Accompanied by Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim, dela Peña’s son Melchor fetched his father from the NBP after travelling 12 hours from their home province.

In a statement today, Lim said: “Tatay Gerry’s journey to freedom was very difficult because of systematic challenges and bureaucratic delays. Being more than 80 years old and sickly, Tatay Gerry is over qualified to avail of humanitarian basis for release.”

Lim added it is concerning why the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) could not immediately implement its own Board Resolution Number OT-08-02-2023 allowing executive clemency for prisoners who have reached 70 years old and served ten years of their sentence.

“The fact is, Tatay Gerry had already over-served his commutated sentence, serving exactly 12 years and two months as of June 12, aside from the good conduct time allowance he accrued. Every additional minute behind bars is a gross injustice for an innocent man,” Lim said.

The Commission on Human Rights on May 24 also reminded the government earlier of its duty to implement the Mandela Rules sick and elderly prisoners.

Already hard of hearing, Tatay Gerry also suffers from impaired vision, diabetes and hypertension. While in jail, he also suffered a stroke.

Defective judicial system

The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said dela Peña’s arrest, conviction and decade-long imprisonment were the result of the country’s defective judicial system.

“If there was any proof, I don’t think it was sufficient because somebody else did it and somebody else admitted doing it. It should have mattered to look for that angle,” Atty. Ephraim Cortez, NUPL president, said.

“The fact that somebody else claimed having done it, it is already a reasonable doubt,” he explained.

Karapatan deputy secretary general Roneo Clamor gives newly-freed political detainee Gerardo dela Peña his portrait. (N. Bacarra/Kodao)

In a celebratory gathering for dela Peña Monday afternoon, he said he was very excited to go home to his family and to again work their farm in Camarines Norte.

“Ay, masaya syempre. Hindi na kayang sabihin ang kasayahan ko. Ang kasayahan ko ay pantay langit na,” he exclaimed. (Happy of course. No words can describe my happiness. My happiness is sky high.)

He added he looks forward to seeing his wife Pilar and to give her a kiss.

Dela Peña said he is grateful to Lim and Kapatid, his lawyers, SELDA and Karapatan and other organizations who worked for his release, including Makabayan representatives Arlene Brosas, France Castro and Raoul Manuel.

He also said he hopes for the freedom of all other political prisoners, especially the sick and elderly.

Dela Peña’s son Melchor for his part said: “Pakiramdam namin, may nadagdag sa buhay namin. Masaya kami dahil ‘yung pamilya namin ay nag-aabang doon.” (We feel our lives have been enhanced. We are happy as our family waits for us arrival.)

“Hindi kami nag-i-expect na makalabas pa siya. Sabi naming, wala na. Buti na lang may tumulong sa amin,” he added (We didn’t expect him to be free. We gave up. Luckily, there were those who helped us.)

Father and son are bound for Camarines Norte today. #

Danah Marie Marcellana’s walk to freedom and justice  

By Nuel M. Bacarra

A daughter of a human rights martyr is now a human rights defender herself two months after being released from jail. She is Danah Marie Marcellana, daughter of the martyred Eden and veteran peasant leader Orly.

Like many political prisoners who have regained freedom, Dana is now a member of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainess Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA). She was released on bail last October 6 this year after more than two years in jail on trumped up charges. At 1 AM on June 25, 2021, elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the military swooped down on Marcellana’s home in Barangay San Gabriel, San Pablo, Laguna and arrested her and her husband Christian Relao without presenting any warrant. The two were accused of the standard kidnapping, murder, rebellion and illegal possession of firearms charges against activists. Realo is still in jail however.

Danah’s story is not a simple one. She was only in her day care years when her mother, then secretary general KARAPATAN-Southern Tagalog was killed with peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy, then chairperson of peasant group Katipunan ng Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (KASAMA-TK). Eden and Eddie led an 11-person fact finding mission to look into a report of a human rights violation case in Gloria town in Mindoro, Occidental. After the mission, they were waylaid by soldiers along the road and took Gumanoy and Marcellana and three others separately on April 21. The next day, the bodies of Gumanoy and Marcellana were found in a ditch in Bansud, Mindoro Oriental. General Jovito Palparan was then the commanding officer of the 204th Brigade of the Philippine Army in Mindoro.

Danah’s family is from Quezon that boasts of an active peasant movement that, in turn, is fueled by landlessness and the cruelty of the landlords. Her father Orly is a fierce farmer leader of Tanggol Magsasaka-Timog Katagalugan. Because of her mother’s assassination and the incessant harassments to their family, Danah grew up militant, herself becoming a peasant organizer of KASAMA-TK when arrested.

A young wife and mother at the time of their arrest, Danah experienced depression and other mental anguish in jail. These were compounded by the deplorable situation in prison facilities and the violent and unjust manner of their arrest. When a warrant was finally shown her in prison, she found out that she was charged with alleged crimes that happened in 2008 when she was only 12 years old.

Danah speaking at a rally. (Supplied photo)

At a protest rally at the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Padre Faura last December 5, Danah narrated how angry she was at the time. “After twenty years of seeking justice for the death of my mother here at DOJ, the government now focused its attacks on me,” she said.

Like fellow political prisoners Amanda Echanis and Reina Mae Nasino who both had their child in prison, Danah was still nursing her one year old baby when she was arrested. She also narrated that that National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) personnel can barge into PNP lock up cells to intimidate, threat with death of arbitrarily or include anybody in its list of fake surrenderees.

In her two years in jail, she learned that elderly and sickly women political prisoners are subjected to harsh treatment, as in the case of Virginia Villamor, 67, who was forced to lay prostrate by the police resulting to a crack in her knees and pelvic bones. There were others, like Cleofe Lagtapon who at 68 is now in the Correctional Institute for Women for alleged illegal possession of firearms; Evangeline Rapanot, 71, from Cagayan from who suffers multiple health problems; and Fe Serrano, 65, from Southern Tagalog who is facing more than 35 different criminal cases under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Dana said that elderly women political prisoners are particularly vulnerable to the inhumane treatment in inmates, the over-congestion of jails, the inadequate prison food, woeful state of medical services and the slow-paced trial of trumped-up charges against them.

As it had been when she decided to become a peasant organizer like her father, it was as easy for Danah to agree to join SELDA and become a human rights defender like her late mother. “These injustices that I, my family and other political prisoners  have suffered are enough reasons to continue fighting,” she said.

“There are no high enough walls, no cyclone wires, no isolation that women political prisoners cannot handle in our quest for freedom,” she added. #

Human rights stalwart Marie Hilao-Enriquez passes away

Karapatan’s chairperson emeritus Amaryllis Hilao-Enriquez has died on April 24 in California, USA, the human rights icon’s family announced.

Hilao-Enriquez’s daughter Andrea said her mother died at 12 noon Sunday (California time). She was 68.

 “My mother, Amaryllis Hilao-Enriquez, passed away at 12 noon today. She is reunited with her sister, Liliosa, who died under martial law in the Philippines,” Andrea wrote on Facebook.

 “My mother dedicated her life to fighting for justice and human rights. She was a beautiful person, funny, intelligent, brave, and strong. She was loved and will be greatly missed,” she added.

Karapatan also announced her death, adding it mourns with her family along with human rights violations victims, their families and communities.

Hilao-Enriquez was also a former chairperson of the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensiyon at Aresto (SELDA) and former convernor of the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law (CARMMA).

Hilao-Enriquez had long been suffering from various illnesses.

Martial law survivor

Fondly-called Marie by the Philippine human rights community, Hilao-Enriquez was a scholar at the College of Medicine at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) taking up occupational therapy when she first became involved in activism.

She eventually joined the Kamuning chapter of the youth organization Kabataang Makabayan (Patriotic Youth).

Karapatan further described its former long-time chairperson as a stalwart in the anti-Marcos dictatorship struggle and in the relentless advocacy for justice and accountability of the Marcoses.

“[S]he and her family endured gross human rights violations during that dark period of our nation’s history. Her sister, student journalist and activist Liliosa, was the first reported case of killing under military detention after Marcos’s martial law was imposed,” Karapatan said.

After Liliosa’s death, Marie went underground and continued her work as community organizer.

In 1974, Hilao-Enriquez was arrested, tortured and was detained for two years. She became part of the Kapisanan para sa Pagpapalaya at Amnestiya ng mga Detenidong Pulitikal sa Pilipinas or Kapatid after she was released from prison and as she campaigned for the release of her detained husband, Karapatan said.

After the late dictator was ousted in 1986, she joined SELDA and helped in the filing of the historic class action suit against Marcos in Hawaii.

Hilao-Enriquez helped in consolidating the data and finding the lead plaintiffs for the class suit. Her mother and younger sister were two of the ten named plaintiffs in the case.

She led campaigns for justice and reparations of human rights violations victims against the Marcoses, including in the advocacy for the enactment of Republic Act No. 10368 or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.

She led the formation of CARMMA in 2016, having campaigned against what Karapatan said are historical lies of the Marcoses throughout decades.

Hilao-Enriquez continued in leading the campaigns for people’s rights as the founding secretary general of Karapatan in its establishment in 1995 and became its chairperson in 2009.

“She worked for the release of political prisoners and the dismissal of trumped up charges against those detained, in pursuing justice for victims of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture, and in working for the signing and implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL),” Karapatan said.

“Hilao-Enriquez mentored numerous activists and human rights workers throughout decades. We are deeply indebted to her brilliant, selfless and passionate work as among the foremost human rights defenders in the Philippines. We vow to strive to honor her legacy of service to the Filipino people in every possible way that we can and as long as tyrants and dictators remain in our midst,” it added.

READ: Marie Hilao-Enriquez: An Icon of Human Rights Activism in the Philippines

Marie Hilao-Enriquez (Photo from Andrea Enriquez’s announcement)

‘From Manila to the world’

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia said he is very sad at the news of Hilao-Enriquez’s passing.

“Tita Marie (Hilao-Enriquez) was very dear to me. We walked together in many a journey to defend, protect and promote human rights. From Manila to Geneva, from Utrecht to Oslo to New York, she was a partner, aunt, comrade, and friend,” Olalia said.

The lawyer added that Hilao-Enriquez was “unique, indefatigable, funny, thoughtful and selfless, even as she was naughty and sometimes pesky in her own adorable way. I got only the fondest, funniest and feistiest of memories of her.”

To say that Hilao-Enriquez is an icon of the human rights struggle is an understatement, Olalia said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘We will never forget the atrocities they committed and their cronies’

“The Marcoses and the Dutertes, as well as their cohorts, might join forces in rewriting history. But we will not forget nor cower. We, victims of Marcos’ martial law, will never forget the atrocities they committed and their cronies. Together with the Filipino people, we will remain steadfast in our commitment to uphold truth, justice, and human rights and continue to defy past and present fascist regimes.”Danilo Dela Fuenta, Martial Law victim and National Vice Chairperson, Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA)

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)

Martial law victims want Imelda behind bars

Martial law victims and activists held a picket protest outside Sandiganbayan office in Quezon City to demand for the arrest warrant for Imelda Marcos following its guilty verdict against the former First Lady.

Samahan ng mga Ex-detainees laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) welcomed the conviction and asked the court to immediately put Marcos behind bars.

The group also reacted to the statement of PNP Director General Oscar Albayalde that Imelda might not be arrested because of her age and health conditions.

Albayalde’s statement did not surprise the martial law human rights victims since the Rodrigo Duterte government has been giving the Marcos family special treatment, SELDA said.

SELDA added that Sandiganbayan’s guilty verdict is a landmark decision that should be upheld.

SELDA called on the Sandiganbayan to stand by tits decision and not be cowed by the Marcoses’ alliance with Duterte. # (Report by Joseph Cuevas / Video by Carlo Francisco / Featured Image by Jinky Mendoza-Aguilar)

Martial Law victims call for distribution of remaining compensation funds

Victims of human rights violations under Ferdinand Marcos’ Martial Law called on government to extend the validity of reparation funds set to expire on August 11.

The Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) said that not all legitimate victims have been given reparation from funds sequestered from the late dictator’s stolen wealth.

The martial law compensation board is still in possession of tens of millions of undistributed funds which it has to return to the National Treasury on Saturday, (Video by Joseph Cuevas)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Na8dNzXjYxc

 

Political prisoners go on fast, call for release and end to criminalization of political acts

Countdown to International Human Rights Day

Political prisoners go on fast, call for release and end to criminalization of political acts

Political prisoners in the Philippines launched a seven-day fast today, as members of the International League of  People’s Struggle (ILPS) commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners. The fast will last until December 10, International Human Rights Day.

Close to a hundred political prisoners in different jails in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao announced participation to the fast to call for their release and as a gesture of solidarity to various people’s protest actions leading to December 10.

Those fasting are political prisoners in various detention centers in Metro Manila, at the Special Intensive Care Area-Metro Manila District Jail (SICA-MMDJ) and Taguig City Jail-Female Dorm in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City; New Bilibid Prisons-Maximum Security Compound in Muntinlupa City; and PNP Custodial Center in Quezon City.

In the provinces, fasting political prisoners are those detained in the following jails: Aurora Provincial Jail in Southern Tagalog; Ormoc City Jail, Tacloban City Jail, and Dancalan Provincial Jail in Bobon, Northern Samar and Bohol Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Visayas; and in Valencia City Jail, Malaybalay City Jail, Gingoog City Jail, Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in Misamis Oriental, and Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao. Jailed peace consultants of the National Democratic Front are also joining the fast.

Some political prisoners will also hold noise barrages and hanging of streamers as protest. These activities culminate on Human Rights Day, “as their way of highlighting the government’s practice of criminalizing political actions and filing trumped up charges against those perceived as ‘enemies of the state’,” said Jigs Clamor, SELDA national coordinator.

IMG_6773

As support to the political prisoners, various progressive organizations led by Karapatan and SELDA held picket actions today at the Manila Regional Trial Court and at the Department of Justice.

The protesters first went to the Manila Regional Trial Court for the hearing of the multiple murder case against peace consultants Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Austria-Tiamzon, Randall Echanis, Raphael Baylosis, Vicente Ladlad, and Makabayan Coalition Chair Satur Ocampo.  The case is considered the “mother” of all trumped-up charges implicating Ocampo et al in a supposed mass grave found in Monterico Village, Baybay Leyte. All those accused in the case, except the Tiamzon couple are on conditional bail.

IMG_6799

Joined in by Manilakbayan from Mindanao and Karapatan-Southern Tagalog, the protesters marched to the Justice Department. “This department cannot simply say they cannot do anything on these trumped up cases lodged against political prisoners,” Clamor said. “The military weaves stories with prosecutors so they can arrest and detain people who are actively defending their rights and their communities,” he added.

As of November 2014, there are 491 political prisoners, 220 of them were arrested under the BS Aquino regime. There are 43 female political prisoners, 53 are ailing, 42 are elderly, and six are minors.

“The political prisoners are not the enemy of Filipino people. The plunderers and those who perpetuate human rights violations, killings, disappearances, torture and harassment are those who should be jailed. We need the political prisoners back in the streets and in the communities to continue their selfless work and advocacies. They should be immediately released,” he concluded. ###

 

Manila, December 3, 2014