By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Families and support group for political prisoners, Kapatid, is urging the Supreme Court to speed up the promulgation of the writ of kalayaan to decongest jails and pave the way for the release of elderly and sick political prisoners.
This is as the New Bilibid Prison and the Correctional Institute for Women are implementing a lockdown due to increasing number of COVID-19 cases.
Among those who joined today’s protest action in front of the Supreme Court is activist Reina Mae Nasino who was released on bail early this year.
“I hope the Supreme Court heeds our appeal to give Tatay Gerry a chance at freedom which they did not give me to save my baby,” Nasino said, whose daughter River died after being separated while being incarcerated.
Nasino is referring to Gerardo Dela Peña, 83, the oldest political prisoner, who has been in jail for 10 years despite failing health. He is detained at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP). His eyes are already blurring and his hearing is also deteriorating.
Read: Guilty Imelda still free as elderly, ill political prisoners remain behind bars
During the program in front of the Supreme Court, they tied white paper doves inscribed with “writ of kalayaan” and strung with blue ribbons around the gateposts of the high court along Padre Faura St., Manila.
“It is a travesty of justice that pork barrel mastermind Janet Napoles has been acquitted along with her cohorts who are now sitting senators, but no political prisoner whose cases are made up has been included in any of the trumpeted mass releases of elderly PDLs (persons deprived with liberty) since the start of the pandemic in 2020,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said.
The group also delivered a letter addressed to SC Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, seeking his “active intercession” for Dela Peña. She said that Dela Peña’s release papers have been held up by the delays in the Bureau of Corrections as they complied with clearance and certification requirements as well as a psychological test.
“Gerardo Dela Peña’s abject condition exemplifies why the SC Writ of Kalayaan should, at the soonest, be institutionalized to protect persons deprived of liberty whose right to life, right to health, and the right against cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment are violated not only by substandard prison conditions but also by snail-paced bureaucratic procedures,” Lim said in the letter to Gesmundo.
According to Karapatan, as of March 31, out of the 769 political prisoners in the country, 72 are elderly and 90 have illnesses.
In April 2020 during the height of COVID-19, Kapatid asked the high court to release ailing and elderly political prisoners on humanitarian grounds. However, the high court said that it could not act on their petition and left such decision to trial courts handling their respective cases.
Read: SC urged to release sick, elderly political prisoners amid COVID-19
Read: SC decision means longer wait for sick, elderly political prisoners – kin
Meanwhile, Kapatid urged the SC to reconvene immediately the Technical Working Group on the writ of kalayaan to speed up the finalization of its rules and framework.
They also asked Gesmundo to initiate a “consultative process with stakeholders like Kapatid.”
In December last year, SC Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen vowed to push for the approval of his proposed writ of kalayaan which would address jail congestion in the country. (RTS, JJE)