By JONAS ALPASAN
MANILA – A year since his arrest, ailing and elderly political prisoner Marcos Aggalao died on Sept. 12, at around 8:30 p.m., while in detention at the Kalinga Provincial Hospital.
Human rights group Karapatan said 74-year-old Aggalao, a Kalinga, was already suffering from dementia and hypertension, and was also ailing with pneumonia when soldiers of the Philippine Army’s 503rd Infantry Brigade arrested him on Sept. 10, 2016 in Gawaan, Balbalan, Kalinga.
He suffered a stroke three times while in detention, with the latest on August 29 this year. While in hospital detention, the court ordered his release on bail, after his family and lawyers raised P100,000 ($20,000).
He, however, was not released because trumped-up charges were filed against him anew in Baguio City. The Kalinga court eventually dismissed the charges against him, but he remained in detention because of the cases in Baguio. He was facing eight trumped-up charges of murder, frustrated murder and robbery, said Karapatan.
The Cordillera Peoples Alliance gave tribute to Aggalao as “a true hero of the people.” He was a peace-pact holder of the Salegseg tribe, and was part of the massive campaign against the Chico River dam project during the Marcos Dictatorship. The group called for justice for his arbitrary arrest and detention, which led to his death.
Aggalao was among those listed by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines as a “priority” for the releases for humanitarian consideration. Upon assuming power last year, President Duterte promised to release all political prisoners through amnesty, but changed his mind yet again.
“Your so-called ‘bargaining chips’ are dying, Mr. President. Your cheap tricks to turn political prisoners into trump cards and deny them the freedom they deserve have cost them their lives. Two political prisoners have already died. It is not only their illnesses that have caused their deaths, but this government’s injustice and inaction. For every political prisoner who dies, ultimately, the GRP is accountable,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.
Aggalao is the second ailing political prisoner to die in detention under Duterte. Last year, 66-year-old political prisoner Bernabe Ocasla died after suffering a heart attack while in detention at the Manila City Jail.
“How many more political prisoners will have to die before the GRP acts? With every day of inaction, the Duterte regime is affirming that we cannot expect any form of justice from such a system,” Palabay said.