“They wasted two years of my life,” Lita Mahilum, a political prisoner who was in jail for two years before being cleared by the Court of Appeals of the charges filed against her by the military, said.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Lita Mahilum, 44, a domestic helper in Cebu, and his boyfriend Pedro Lumantas were traveling last July 26, 2008 to make preparations for their wedding. When they arrived at the Sibulan Port, Negros Oriental, around 9 a.m., Mahilum and Lumantas were arrested by elements of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division.
In its press release , the Philippine Army claimed that Lumantas is a finance and logistics officer of the New People’s Army (NPA) regional committee in Central Visayas. The military also accused Mahilum of being a former member of the NPA unit which is operating in Bohol.
The two were charged with illegal possession of explosives. Mahilum said they only had biscuits, coffee and cigarettes with them when they were arrested. She said the three fragmentation grenades later presented by the military in court as evidence were planted.
On Nov. 6, 2008, the local court in Dumaguete convicted Mahilum and Lumantas of illegal possession of explosives and sentenced them to 18 years in prison. After more than two years of languishing in jail, Mahilum was acquitted by virtue of a decision of the Court of Appeals (CA).
“They wasted two years of my life,” Mahilum told Bulatlat in an interview. She was released on Oct. 21 from the Correctional Institution for Women.
“They had no evidence against us,” Mahilum said. Meanwhile, Lumantas’s conviction was affirmed. He is detained at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City. Lumantas was also convicted of murder by the Danao City Trial Court in Cebu.
Mahilum said after their arrest, only two hearings were conducted and she was asked to speak only during the second hearing while Lumantas was not at all given the chance to speak. “I did not expect the judge’s decision,” Mahilum said.
Political prisoner Lita Mahilum says: “It is difficult when your enemy is the government.” She has been released without the help of the new Aquino government(Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / bulatlat.com)
“I was so angry my tears fell as I looked at the judge.” Mahilum said the courtroom that day was teeming with military officers and members of the media. The two were presented by the military to the media as high ranking officers of the NPA.
Mahilum’s family lives in Labangon, Cebu and for a time, they lived in Bohol. It is in Bohol where Mahilum met peasant organizers. “I came to understand the reasons for our poverty, that there are many landless peasants like us.” Mahilum later went back to Cebu and worked as domestic helper and baby sitter.
“It is difficult when your enemy is the government,” Mahilum said.
After the arrest, the two were brought to Camp Leon Kilat in Tanjay City, Negros Oriental where they stayed until Sept. 5, 2009.
Mahilum said the soldiers asked her many names of alleged NPA commanders. “They had many questions. They asked me names. I told them I don’t know those persons.”
When she refused to answer questions, Mahilum related, one of the soldiers told her, “I would pull off your nails if you don’t speak.” Mahilum said, “I told them they could do anything to me, that they could kill me.”
“I was told also that he [Lumantas] already confessed. At one time, one of the soldiers told me that they already killed him,” Mahilum said. She and Lumantas were being interrogated and detained separately.
When she had the chance to see Lumantas again at the courtroom, Mahilum said Lumantas looked groggy. “He told me the soldiers forced him to take a drug and that he was electrocuted and beaten.”