Human rights group prods SC for release of 22 political prisoners; OSG opposes

By Jeffrey Damicog

A human rights group on Saturday (May 23) urged the Supreme Court (SC) to grant its petition seeking the release of 22 political prisoners as it expressed concerns over the continued spread of COVID-19 among persons deprived of liberty (PDLs).

Fides Lim of Kapatid (Twitter) Fides Lim of Kapatid (Twitter)

“We hope the Supreme Court will immediately issue a decision on our humanitarian appeal,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said in a statement.

Lim reminded the SC that it has been 45 days since the petition was filed last April 8 jointly by Kapatid, National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), Public Interest Law Center (PILC), and rights groups Karapatan on behalf of the 22 political prisoners.

The petitioners are Dionisio Almonte, 62; Ireneo Atadero, Jr., 56; Alexander Ramonita Birondo, 68; Winona Marie Birondo, 61; Rey Claro Casambre, 68; Ferdinand Castillo, 60; Francisco Fernandez, Jr. 71; Renante Gamara, 62; Vicente Ladlad, 74; Ediesel Legaspi, 61; Adelberto Silva, 71; Alberto Villamor, 65; Virginia Villamor, 68; Cleofe Lagatapon, 66; Geann Perez, 21; Emmanuel Bacarra, 55; Oliver Rosales, 48; Norberto Murillo; five-months pregnant Reina Mae Nasino, 22; Dario Tomada, 52; Oscar Belleza; and Lilia Bucatcat, 73.

On the other hand, Lim lauded the actions taken by the SC which have resulted in the release of nearly 10,000 PDLs.

“We point out, however, that NOT A SHADOW of a political prisoner has shown up in any of these releases. We thus hope that the Supreme Court, in the spirit of justice, compassion, and humanity, will address this and act now on our petition. NO ONE deserves to die from a virus without even a fighting chance to survive,” Lim said.

She lamented that a political prisoner, Adelaida Macusang, 61, died at the Tagum hospital while detained at the Compostela Valley Provincial Rehabilitation Center.

Lim also cited news reports that 60 PDLs died in March and another 60 in April at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntilupa City.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) has filed a comment opposing the release of the 22 political prisoners.

“The petitioners are all valuable members of the terrorist organization - the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDF) and charged with non-bailable offenses,” cited the OSG in its comment submitted to the SC.

“Without a doubt, this petition is a ruse to remove them from the confines of the judicially-approved penal custody,” the OSG pointed out.

The OSG accused the petitioners of using “humanitarian reasons” to push the SC into a corner, so that “the failure to act favorably on their request, however baseless, would imply that the Court refused to act charitably on the plea of petitioners.”