‘Abadilla 5’ to sign plea to Aquino in own blood
In a letter signed with their own blood, members of the convicted group known as the “Abadilla 5” on Saturday asked President Benigno Aquino III not for justice any more, but for compassion.
“We’re no longer seeking justice, we just appeal for your understanding… give us a chance to be reunited with our families through a presidential clemency or parole. We are begging, knocking on your heart to grant our appeal for freedom,” read part of the group’s letter, written in Filipino, to Mr. Aquino.
With their families, activist priest Fr. Robert Reyes and former Isabela Governor Grace Padaca as witnesses, Leonido Lumanog, Cesar Fortuna, Joel de Jesus and Augusto Santos, slit their wrists and dipped feather quills and their thumbs in the blood to sign and stamp the letter with their thumbprints.
The group’s fifth member, Rameses de Jesus, could not be at the event held at the New Bilibid Prison social hall at noon yesterday because he had been transferred to the Iwahig Penal Colony in Palawan.
Reyes said De Jesus was transferred after he was reportedly caught gambling with other inmates.
Messenger and adviser
Reyes said he intended to take the letter to the Department of Justice on Monday—the 15th anniversary of the murder of former military intelligence officer Rolando Abadilla—where he in turn will sign it with his own blood as a witness and as a spiritual adviser to the five men.
“From the DoJ, I will run to Malacañang to give the letter to President Aquino. And I’m not giving the letter to anybody but him,” said Reyes. “This is not an ordinary document, it is signed in blood. Any document signed in blood is not trivial, so I want to personally give it to him.”
Lumanog, who revealed that he twice refused a presidential pardon during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, said that he initially had second thoughts about seeking a pardon.
“Because I know we’re innocent. Pero ngayon kahit sa paanong pamamaraan na makakalabas kami dito, tatanggapin ko na (But now I will grab at anything to get out of here). We have to swallow our principles,” he said.
‘We’re all innocent’
The five men have repeatedly professed their innocence in the killing of Abadilla, a military officer accused by human rights groups of torturing detainees during the martial law regime imposed the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The five said they were tortured into admitting to the ambush of Abadilla on June 13, 1996, in Quezon City.
Lumanog told the Inquirer that former first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo had offered to help them get a presidential pardon then.
“In the past, we refused it because we did not want to admit to doing something that we did not do, and besides we were hopeful the Supreme Court would grant our appeal,” he said.
Their appeal, however, was turned down with finality by the Supreme Court.
“Now I’m really hoping that President Aquino would find it in his heart to heed our pleas. Sana meron siyang puso para sa mga taong katulad namin na biktima ng kawalan ng hustisya (We hope he has a heart for people like us who suffered the loss of justice),” Lumanog said.
Reyes said that whether or not the five men admitted to the crime was no longer an issue.
“It’s moot and academic because the Supreme Court has already decided that they’re guilty beyond reasonable doubt,” Reyes, also known as the running priest, said. “What’s important now is for them to have freedom at any cause.”
“Leny Lumanog is ailing while the other families continue to be devastated by what happened. I am witness to the families’ sufferings,” he said. “They’re no longer interested in clearing their names but in seeking clemency from Mr. Aquino so they could rejoin their families.”
The path to freedom
“If he (Mr. Aquino) believes in the ‘straight path,’ freeing these men would be a manifestation of that,” he added in Filipino.
The group as well as their families said they were hoping their pleas will not fall on deaf ears.
“We’ve wasted 15 years behind bars. We should have spent those years with our loved ones. Many things happened in our families in that time that we should have been a part of,” the letter of the men further said in Filipino.
“Compassion is all we’re asking for now. We hope the men would be given the chance to be fathers to their children again,” said Lumanog’s wife, Malou, also in Filipino.
Reyes said they were counting on Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s “promise” to endorse an appeal for clemency for the five men, which would open the door to a pardon from President Aquino
He said De Lima earlier vowed to make the recommendation for the Board of Pardons and Parole “to start working on an appeal for clemency.”
“It’s the first process toward being granted clemency,” Reyes said, adding that the grounds would probably be humanitarian reasons. “We are hoping, making an effort that they be granted clemency.”
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