“They should have never been jailed in the first place. If there is anyone who needs to be jailed, these are the corrupt officials who can get away with their crimes with a grin in their faces. My son and others must be freed.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – It has been 20 years since Amador Cadano, a retired bank area manager, last voted. He has long been dispirited, and doubtful that an election could change the prevailing system in the country. With this year’s election results, his sentiment remains the same, but Cadano is not closing the doors.
“The very positive prospect that peace talks would finally push through has opened a door of hope for me,” Cadano told Bulatlat.
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said he is intent to get the peace talks moving, and as a sign of good will and confidence-building measure, will order the release of political prisoners.
Cadano hopes this would finally signal freedom for his only son, Guiller.
Guiller and fellow University of the Philippines student Gerard Salonga were abducted by a joint military and police team on Aug. 9, 2014 in Carranglan, Nueva Ecija. They were detained incommunicado for two days before they were surfaced in a police detention facility in Cabanatuan City. Both were 23 years old at the time of their arrest, and have been detained ever since.
Last May, Guiller and Gerard were moved to the Nueva Ecija Provincial Jail in Cabanatuan City “because the police said they were high-risk prisoners,” said Cadano.
Human rights and students groups have long called for the release of the two political prisoners, who were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Months after they were abducted and consequently surfaced, Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon visited them in their detention cell in San Jose City, where they gave an account of the torture they were subjected to by their abductors.
Salonga was subjected to a 13-hour interrogation. He was also warned that his mother would be harmed by his captors if he would not admit that they are members of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. During their detention, Salonga was also forced to kneel down and told to feel the dirt in which he would be buried.
Cadano said his son Guiller was shaking and crying when he first saw him. It was clear to him that his son underwent mental torture from the hands of their captors.
“He was broken and kept apologizing. I told him there was nothing to apologize for, because he did not do anything wrong,” he told Bulatlat in a previous report.
The two UP students were victims of “AFP’s age-old tactic of planting evidence,” said Ridon.
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), citing data from rights group Karapatan, said at least 136 out of 561 political prisoners are aged 18 to 35 as of last year. Of the 136, the student writers group said 102 of them were arrested under Aquino.
“What greater injustice could there be than to be robbed of one’s youth? To be jailed for one’s beliefs?” Ridon said in a Bulatlat report.
This is not the first time that Cadano had called on the Philippine government to release his son and Salonga. He frequently joins protest actions demanding not only the release of Guiller but other political prisoners as well. During Pope Francis’ visit in early 2015, Cadano was at the forefront of protest actions, along with relatives of other political prisoners, in calling on the Pope to intercede for the release of their loved ones.
The Aquino government denied that there are political prisoners due to their “strict policy to uphold human rights,” as Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said back in 2011.
But Karapatan said that as of March 2016, there are 543 political prisoners, 292 or more than half of them were arrested under Aquino.
Cadano urged Duterte to be true to his promises.
He said, “They should have never been jailed in the first place. If there is anyone who needs to be jailed, these are the corrupt officials who can get away with their crimes with a grin in their faces. My son and others must be freed.”