“What kind of government jails a family for 16 years and ignores all appeals for their freedom although the elderly Alegre couple are eligible for pardon and humanitarian release especially at this time of pandemic?”
By ARNETH ASIDDAO
MANILA — After almost two decades of wrongful conviction, political prisoner Jesus Alegre has passed away at 75, rights group Kapatid reported.
Kapatid, a support organization of families and friends of political prisoners, said Alegre died on June 13 at the Ospital ng Muntinlupa. The group said that on June 11, Alegre had diarrhea, swollen lower limbs, vomited his food and could no longer sit or stand up without support or go to the toilet. It was only after two days that he was brought to the nearest hospital.
Kapatid appealed for the immediate release of Alegre’s sick 74-year-old wife Moreta and son Selman.
“What kind of government jails a family for 16 years and ignores all appeals for their freedom although the elderly Alegre couple are eligible for pardon and humanitarian release especially at this time of pandemic?” said Fides Lim, Kapatid spokesperson.
Lim said that they submitted the names of Jesus and Moreta Alegre to the Department of Justice (DOJ) at least four times from December 2019 to December 2020, hoping they would be included in the Christmas list of elderly prisoners to be considered for executive clemency. However, they didn’t hear back from the DOJ.
She said the elderly couple was also included in a petition that Kapatid filed in the Supreme Court in April 2020 for the release of prisoners medically vulnerable to COVID-19.
“Silence means inaction, and inaction can be tragic,” said Lim.
Alegre’s death comes after the passing of two other political prisoners in May, Joseph Canlas and Maximo Redota.
“His death shows up the terrible state of the highly congested prisons in the country, making the call to release prisoners whose lives are at risk from COVID-19 most exigent,” Lim said.
According to Kapatid, Alegre had been in and out of the hospital. Alegre had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes mellitus recorded in a medical abstract by medical officer Raquel Manalastas of New Bilibid Prison (NBP) hospital.
Alegre was arrested on April 14, 2005 in Barangay Taba-Ao, Sagay, Negros Occidental and convicted for a trumped-up murder charge to “drive him away from the small plot of land he tilled.”
Prior to their arrests, Alegre and his family mainly relied on fishing for livelihood but also planted palay and coconut to add to their meager income. When a landlord came to encroach on their land to build a resort, the family resisted, starting a land dispute. Six members of the family were then charged with murder, with four of them being convicted.
His elderly wife Moreta and son Selman, 47, are detained at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong and at the NBP Maximum Security Compound respectively.
Kapatid called for a full investigation into Alegre’s death to ascertain the responsibility and accountability of government agencies in looking after the health and safety of political prisoners.
Lim also appealed for Chief Justice Gesmundo’s exigent intervention and DOJ action to decongest jails and order an inspection of all prison facilities.
“We reiterate our call for the promulgation of the writ of kalayaan to protect the right to life and health of those in government custody, including the political prisoners who suffer the worst abuse of deliberate neglect,” said Lim.