By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The spotlight shines ever more brightly on the plight of political prisoners in the Philippines as the Duterte administration remains adamant not to put behind bars Imelda Marcos, the other half of the conjugal dictatorship that ruled the country during the dark and turbulent years of the Marcos authoritarian rule who was recently found guilty over several counts of graft cases.
Today, Dec. 3, as human rights defenders commemorate the International Day of Solidarity for the Release of Political Prisoners, Bulatlat is listing down select cases of elderly and sickly political prisoners under the present administration, which is now 517 as of September 2018, according to human rights group Karapatan.
1. Rafael Baylosis
Weeks after the unilateral termination of the peace talks between President Rodrigo Duterte and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, long-time trade union organizer and publicly-known peace consultant Rafael Baylosis, along with a companion, was nabbed in Quezon City.
Baylosis, 68, is currently detained at SICA in Taguig City.
Shortly after his arrest, state security forces came for his son-in-law and fellow union organizer Maoj Maga. They arrested him and today he remains incarcerated due to a trumped up charge.
2. Leopoldo Caloza
Peace consultant Leopoldo Caloza is a long-time activist in Nueva Ecija until he was arrested and detained in 2006.
He faced a total of 21 trumped-up charges against him, which were all dismissed except for one that led to his unfortunate conviction in 2015.
During the turbulent years of the Marcos dictatorship, Caloza worked for the upholding of the interests and rights of farmers until he was arrested in 1981 and subjected to heavy torture. He was released a year later and he carried on his work as a peasant organizer and consultant of the NDFP in the peace negotiations.
Caloza’s conviction, however, is just the tip of the iceberg in their family’s quest for justice. In 2006, at the height of Palparan’s reign in Central Luzon under Oplan Bantay Laya, Caloza’s son Arturo, a local leader of Bayan Muna, was shot dead by suspected state agents.
3. Dario Tomada
Dario Tomada hailed from Leyte, where he was an active peasant organizer during the bloody reign of terror of the now-convicted retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan.
A year after the attempt on his brother-in-law’s life, Tomada left his hometown upon the advice of his colleagues. He went to Manila and looked for a regular job – his earnings he sent back home for his wife and children. Until he was arrested in 2010 in Binan, Laguna, a province south of Manila, where he was working as a parking attendant of a local restaurant.
Today, he is among the co-accused in the multiple murder charges in the Hilongos case. At age of 50, he is incarcerated in the Manila City Jail. He is suffering from a non-Insulin dependent diabetes mellitus type II, bronchial asthma, and a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
4. Ferdinand Castillo
Peace consultant and veteran activist Ferdinand Castillo was arrested in 2017, following Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s declaration of an all-out war against the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, and the NDFP.
During the Marcos dictatorship, Castillo co-founded the Cagayan Valley Human Rights Organization. He was also crucial in the establishment of the local chapter of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas that led Sakbayan, a caravan from Cagayan Valley to Manila to support the opening of peace talks between the then Aquino administration and the NDFP in 1986.
His wife Nona Andaya-Castillo, a lactation expert and breastfeeding advocate, said her husband manages to keep illnesses at bay with his vegan diet that included indigenous fruits and vegetables. Among Castillo’s illnesses are: malaria, gout, rheumatic heart disease, transient ischemic attack (TIA) also known as mini-stroke, colon bleeding and hypertension.
5. Rita Espinoza and Benito Quilloy
In 2017, Benito Quilloy and Rita Espinoza were abducted while they were having lunch in a local restaurant in Kabankalan City and later surfaced in Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr. in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental.
The two were conducting a workshop led by the Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network with the members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers to identify appropriate development projects in their areas at the time of their abduction.
The two, known for their advocacies for the rights and welfare of farmers, were charged with illegal possession of firearms and ammunitions. They are also facing trumped-up criminal cases in other provinces.
Quilloy is suffering from eye problems while Espinoza has depression and hypertension. Both are detained in the Butuan City Jail.
6. Lorenzo Obrado
Lorenzo Obrado is among the most vocal leaders in the Save Patungan Now Movement in Cavite, where fisherfolk are facing threats of eviction as giant real estate corporations are eyeing their land for so-called development projects.
Obrado was arrested by a combined force of the police and military on Feb. 21, 2014, along with fellow community leader William Castillano. They are charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
He is suffering from coronary heart disease and tuberculosis.
7. Vicente Ladlad and the Villamor couple
Vicente Ladlad, who is among the publicly-known figures in the peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP, was arrested in evening of Nov. 8 in Novaliches, Quezon City. Similar to the case of Baylosis and Castillo, his arrest was yet another violation of the signed peace agreement between the two negotiating parties that supposedly guarantees his immunity from arrests, surveillance, harassment, among others.
The police accused Ladlad of carrying firearms, which his wife Fides Lim found impossible as the former had chronic asthma that had degenerated into emphysema and a severe heart condition. These firearms and explosives, she said, are merely planted.
Ladlad was arrested along with two elderly couple Virginia and Alberto Villamor.
Lawyer Kristina Conti, in her Facebook post, describes Virginia as “semi-immobilized,” after her hip was fractured earlier this year. It required her to “sit on a recliner most of the time, you know, like a lola (grandmother).” She is currently incarcerated in the Taguig City Jail-Female Dorm, where she is among the more than 300 inmates in a prison facility designed to accommodate only a hundred.