Rights groups push for release of sick, elderly political detainees

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant Frank Fernandez and Cleofe Lagtapon. (Photo courtesy of Obet De Castro)

“Extreme congestion plus the lack of adequate nutrition, medical facilities, running water and even soap provide a perfect incubator for an epidemic in the entire four-storey building and prison compound,” Kapatid said.


MANILA – Human rights alliance Karapatan appealed for the mass decongestion of prisons in the Philippines following the recent statement of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet calling on States to take immediate actions to protect the health even of the people in detention.

Read: Urgent action needed to prevent COVID-19 in detention facilities – UN Human Rights 

The group particularly presses for the immediate release of the elderly, pregnant and sick political prisoners. The group lamented that the current condition of prisons in the country does not guarantee prisoners’ safety from acquiring the dreaded coronavirus disease.

As of March 28, there are 609 political prisoners in different facilities nationwide. Sixty-three of them are afflicted with life-threatening and debilitating illnesses and 47 are elderly. More than 300 inmates in the said detention facility are crammed in cells which can only hold 32 prisoners, the group said.

Kapatid, an organization of families and friends of political prisoners, has been pushing for the release of the following political prisoners in Taguig City Jail Female Dorm who have chronic illnesses:

  • Cleofe Lagtapon, 66 years old suffering from bronchial asthma. Lagtapon was arrested together with her husband, peace consultant Frank Fernandez in March 2019.
  • Gee-Ann Perez, 21, who has leprosy. She was arrested together with Lagtapon and Fernandez. She was reportedly deprived of medication and access to medical attention which caused for her condition to relapse.
  • Virginia Villamor, 65, has hypertension, depression and chronic pain due to a recent pelvic failure. Villamor was arrested with her husband, Alberto and peace consultant Vicente Ladlad in Nov. 2018.
  • Winona Birondo, 61, has diabetes, hypertension and bronchial asthma. She was arrested together with her husband, Alexander in July 2019. They are part of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines secretariat during peace negotiations.
  • Rowena Rosales, 47, who suffers from hypertension and diverticulitis. She and her husband Oliver were arrested in Bulacan in August 2018. The couples are both former members of Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE).
  • Arlene Panea, 31, who was with Benito and Wilma Tiamzon when they were arrested in 2014. The group said Panea, as well as the Villamor couple and Perez are accidental victims in a political arrest.


“Extreme congestion plus the lack of adequate nutrition, medical facilities, running water and even soap provide a perfect incubator for an epidemic in the entire four-storey building and prison compound,” Kapatid said.

Read: No ‘social distancing’ for sick and elderly political prisoners

They also called for the release of nine other female political prisoners currently detained at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong, including two elderly, Moreta Alegre and Lilia Bucatcat, both 73 and ill.

Other elderly political detainees areFernandez, who also suffers from various physical ailments; Alberto Villamor who has diabetes and has recently recovered from a stroke; and, 80-year-old Gerardo dela Pena, who is suffering from hypertension and other conditions.

Farmer couples from Negros, Moreta and Jesus Alegre, 73 and 74 years old are suffering from hypersensitive cardiovascular disease as well as hypertension and arthritis.

Reina Mae Nacino, meanwhile, is five months pregnant. She was arrested in November 2019.

“Political prisoners, especially the elderly, sick with chronic, debilitating or terminal medical conditions, pregnant women and nursing mothers, those who are due for parole or pardon, at least one spouse each of political prisoner couples and accidental victims of political arrests should be released immediately on just and humanitarian grounds,” Karapatan said in its urgent appeal. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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