Double standards in the Philippine’s justice system


“In the Philippines there is no such thing as finality when you are poor and political. Because if you are rich or the son of a king of a department, you are a very important prisoner, your case will get decided for 75 days but for the poor and political and those targeted by the government, there is no end to their legal problems.”


MANILA — For four years, 73-year-old peace consultant Vicente Ladlad has been languishing in prison for trumped-up charges.

He is suffering from a number of illnesses including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, particularly emphysema, and hypertension. According to his wife, Fides Lim, who visited him in jail early this month, Ladlad has been losing a lot of weight.

“His situation is difficult because he has this constant struggle with his health. But he is fighting and coping with the support of the political prisoners as well as other groups outside prison. But he needs to get out,” Lim told Bulatlat in an interview.

Ladlad was arrested in 2018 along with elderly couple Alberto and Virginia Villamor.

At the height of the pandemic, Lim and other families and human rights groups asked the Supreme Court to release elderly and sick political prisoners but to no avail.

Read: SC urged to release sick, elderly political prisoners amid COVID-19
Read: Release of more prisoners urged amid COVID-19

This is why for families of political prisoners like Lim, the swift resolution of Juanito Jose Remulla III, son of Justice Secretary Crispin Jesus Remulla, shows how the justice system works for those who are in power.

Satur Ocampo (second to the left) and Vicente Ladlad (third from the left) confer with their lawyers before the hearing starts at the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 32, Aug. 6, 2014. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea /

“The evidence (against Remulla) is strong, but the father is stronger. In other countries where ethics of the government prevail at the very high level, the minister in question would tender his resignation due to conflict of interest,” Lim said.

Meanwhile, last January 19, lawyer, Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, former chief of staff of then senator and now-Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile, was released temporarily after the Supreme Court granted her petition for writ of habeas corpus because her long time detention has violated her right to a speedy trial.

Karapatan said that there are many political prisoners who have been languishing in jail way too long than Reyes.

The group called on the SC and local courts to conduct a review or audit of cases and possibly apply long-detained political prisoners to the same ruling that led to the temporary release of Reyes.

“If someone like Reyes can secure her temporary liberty, citing the inordinate delays in the disposition of her case, then in the interest of justice and fairness, long-detained political prisoners should likewise be granted the same opportunity,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.

“It is a travesty of justice that those in government like Enrile and Reyes who are closely involved in the pork barrel scam and plunder of public funds are being afforded these remedies, while the poor including political prisoners are being denied of their rights,” she added.

‘Justice grinds slowly in the Philippines, even slower for political prisoners’

Justice system in the Philippines is known to be snail-paced. For one, even persons deprived of liberty whose cases are on pretrial stage are already detained for many years before their case can even prosper in court.

A research by Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the School of Justice and Public Safety in Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Raymund E. Narag, PhD, showed that 50 percent of the 8,915 pretrial detainees in Metro Manila had already stayed in jail for more than nine months while still undergoing trial.

L-R Norberto Murillo, Dario Tomada, Exuperio Lloren and Satur Ocampo laugh at the testimony of a government witness during a short break at the hearing of Hilongos case in Manila, Sept. 17, 2018. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / Bulatlat)

Furthermore, 25 percent of the said inmates are in jail for more than two years. There are also 52 inmates who have been languishing in jail for more than 10 years. The longest staying inmate had been detained for 15 years and 17 days.

The Philippines also has the second longest period to resolve cases among the 10 member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, according to the 2020 Ease of Doing Business Report by the World Bank and the International Finance Corp.

This, despite the existence of the Speedy Trial Law and the implementation of the Revised Guidelines for Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases (CT) in September 2017 which also aims to expedite trials and resolutions.

But justice for political prisoners is even slower, said Lim.

She cited the 1985 Hilongos massacre or what she called as the case of traveling skeletons. The trial for this case ran for more than a decade.

At least 15 people were accused in this case. Among them are peace consultants Ladlad, Adelberto Silva, Rafael Baylosis, Wilma and Benito Tiamzon, former Bayan Muna representative Satur Ocampo, farmer activists Norberto Murillo, Dario Tomada and Oscar Belleza among others.

Read: Hilongos, Leyte case| Recycled evidence, inconsistencies reek of political persecution
Read: Leyte Mass Graves a Fake – Satur
Read: Leyte ‘Mass Grave’ was a Military ‘No-man’s Land’ – Karapatan 
Read: Witness to Murder Case vs. Ocampo was a Desaparecido

The case was dismissed twice. First was in December 2021 when Manila Trial Court Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina granted the demurrer to evidence filed by the accused.

This decision was appealed. But the earlier decision by Bunyi-Medina was sustained by Judge Dinnah Aguila-Topacio who found the testimonies of the witnesses to be “riddled with gaping holes.”

“They were in jail for 10 to 11 years and yet despite their very long stay in jail, there is no evidence against them. Who will answer for their misspent years in jail? And then you hear about this (Remulla’s son’s case),” Lim lamented.

“You see how grievous, hurtful, and yet absurd (this case is). You cannot say it is a comedy because someone died here (while) in the trial period,” she said.

Bernabe Ocasla, a farmer, died in 2016 due to cardiac arrest. He was arrested in 2007 in his hometown in Catbalogan City, Samar.

Read: Political prisoner dies after 9 years in jail for trumped-up charges

It seems, however, that there is no end to this case. Despite being junked by the court twice, Lim said that this case is now being revived with an alleged new victim.

“In the Philippines there is no such thing as finality when you are poor and political. Because if you are rich or the son of a king of a department, you are a very important prisoner, your case will get decided for 75 days but for the poor and political and those targeted by the government, there is no end to their legal problems,” Lim said.

She also cited Imelda Marcos who was convicted of seven counts of graft and corruption yet remains free.

Marcos was sentenced to imprisonment for a minimum of six years and one month to 11 years, or a total of 42 years and seven months to 77 years.

Read: Spotlight on political prisoners as Imelda Marcos remains scot-free
Read: Guilty Imelda still free as elderly, ill political prisoners remain behind bars

Meanwhile, she said, there are political prisoners who remain in jail for wrongful conviction. Worse, there are old prisoners who have illnesses that also passed away while suffering in jail such is the case of Jesus Alegre who had been in jail for 16 years.

Jesus, his wife Moreta, and son Selman were all incarcerated. In an earlier report by Bulatlat, groups like Kapatid had appealed for the release of the old couple as they were eligible for pardon and humanitarian release. But none of the appeals were acted upon.

Moreta on the other hand was released last year after she was granted communication of sentence on Dec. 24, 2021.

‘Languishing in jail without case being resolved’

Palabay meanwhile said there are at least 63 political prisoners who have been languishing in jail for years, even longer than Reyes.


She cited political prisoners Arlene Panea, a caregiver, Rex Villaflor, a call center employee, and driver Joel Enano who were arrested along with peace consultants Benito and Wilma Tiamzon without a warrant on March 22, 2014.

She also cited the cases of peasant organizers Juan Paolo Versoza, a visual artist from the University of the Philippines Diliman at the College of Fine Arts, and his wife Grace, a researcher and poet, who were arrested on June 28, 2013 on trumped up charges of robbery, homicide and illegal possession of explosives.

“In these cases, some of the prosecution witnesses by the State forces did not show up after many subpoenas or there were frequent resets of court hearings. In some cases, those detained are afforded only one to two hearings in court a year,” Palabay said.

Read: No review still for cases stemming from ‘search warrant factories’
Read: SC asked to revisit cases of political prisoners arrested due to ‘warrant factories’

For Enrile’s chief of staff, Reyes, she was under detention in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City since 2014 for plunder in relation to the pork barrel scam which involved the alleged funneling of Enrile’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) into bogus non-government organizations.

According to the SC, Reyes’s petition is meritorious because her detention, “has become oppressive thus infringing upon her right to liberty.” Reyes also repeatedly invoked her constitutional right to speedy trial.

The SC said, “While the writ is generally not available to a person whose liberty is under custody of an officer under process issued by a court or judge when such custody becomes vexatious, capricious, and oppressive amounting to an infringement on the constitutional right to speedy trial of an accused, the writ of habeas corpus may be provisionally availed of.”

Meanwhile, in an interview with Altermidya, Palabay said they see the release of Reyes as a possible precedent that can be applied by persons deprived of liberty including political prisoners.

“If someone like Gigi Reyes, whose case is high profile and accused of plunder is given this remedy, why not others including political prisoners? Denying them such would only prove a double standard in our justice system,” Palabay said.

She said they are now in consultation with lawyers on how this will be applicable to certain cases of political prisoners.

Asserting what is right

Amid the legal challenges and continued persecution of their loved ones, Lim said there is no reason for them – the families and colleagues in the movement — to give up.

“It’s just easy to just stay silent because you also risk your life if you speak up. But we should not. Because this is what the government wants, that is why our loved ones are in prison,” she said.

She also said that there are victories like the recent acquittal of 10 human rights defenders of perjury charges filed by former National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr.

“We see that if we keep on pushing the wall, the wall can break down because in the first place the foundations are hollow,” she said, pertaining to the trumped-up charges which have been dismissed by courts.

Read: Truth-tagging? | Courts junk cases vs red-tagged activists, peace consultants
Read: Dismissed cases: A look at the invalid search warrants vs red-tagged activists
Read: More cases against youth groups junked for lack of evidence 

“You cannot sustain a force which is hollow, which is built on air, there has to be some kind of solidity,” she added.

For families, she said they also have to teach themselves to stand for what they believe in. “Even if it may seem very lonely or we feel like there is nothing happening (in the case),” she said.

There are 70 convicted political prisoners, she added. But despite the depressing situation inside jails, she said these political prisoners are not losing hope and trust that those who are outside would continue to fight for their freedom. (RTS, RVO)  (

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