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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)

‘Pakana ng gobyerno’

“Ang October plot ay isang pakana ng gobyerno para bigyang katwiran na harangin, i-delay at harasin ang lahat ng makiki-gunita sa araw ng mga magsasaka.”—Pido Gonzales, PAMALAKAYA Southern Tagalog

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. #