She could not accept that she was jailed for five years for a crime she did not commit.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – After five long years of detention, a woman peasant organizer from Cagayan Valley charged with several counts of murder and frustrated murder was provisionally released after the prosecution failed to present witnesses against her.
Divina Erece was provisionally released in the afternoon of July 5 after Aparri Regional Trial Court Branch 8 issued a court order earlier that day.
Under Philippine criminal procedure, a detained respondent may be released provisionally on the ground of the right to speedy trial, if the prosecution fails to present evidence for an extended period of time. This may eventually lead to a respondent’s permanent release if the prosecution still failed to present evidence.
“She could not accept that she was jailed for five years for a crime she did not commit. She welcomed her release both with dread and a sigh of relief. She hopes other political prisoners would be released as well,” Anma Pascual of Karapatan-Cagayan Valley told Bulatlat.
Erece told human rights workers in Cagayan Valley that she found the jail conditions difficult because she knows she should have never been incarcerated in the first place.
Erece, a peasant organizer, was arrested in May 2011, after she was implicated in a clash between state security forces and members of the New People’s Army that left five rebels dead. When arrested, she was also listed among respondents to two counts of frustrated murder and five murder cases for another clash in the province in January 2011.
She was also charged with rebellion.
All these cases were dismissed by November 2015. However, on the day that she was about to be released, she was prevented from leaving after she was charged anew with murder and two attempted murder cases for an alleged ambush that took place in June 2008 in Gattaran, Cagayan. For these cases, the prosecution was only able to present one witness, which led to her provisional release.
Pascual said the testimony had no weight as the person they presented before the court is not an eyewitness to the alleged crime. All these, she added, are trumped-up charges against a peasant leader who had led mass mobilizations to assert farmers rights to land, irrigation, and the eradication of usury.
“We assail the state’s means to repress progressives who are exposing the ills of this society. Filing of trumped-up charges against activists is their desperate means to quell the people’s resistance,” she added.
Pascual said this is not the first time that activists are being tagged as members of NPA, adding that they have several political detainees who were tagged as rebels even if they were organizers for legal organizations.
There are currently nine political prisoners in Cagayan Valley region, one of them an elderly. Pascual said they have high hopes that resumption of peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines will result in their imminent release.