‘Longest-held political prisoner’ now home

Juanito Itaas, 42, assassin of US military adviser Colonel James Rowe in the Philippines, is kept behind bars at the maximum security compound of the national prison in Muntinlupa suburban Manila 04 January 2007. Itaas has spent 18 years in jail for the 1989 Manila shooting of Rowe, the highest ranking American soldier to become a statistic decades-old Philippine Maoist rebellion. Itaas maintains his innocence while conceding that the communist New People’s Army (NPA) guerrilla was behind the ambush of the former US Green Beret special forces and counter insurgency specialist. Itaas began as child guerrilla who rose through the ranks to become a commander in the south by his late teens. AFP PHOTO/ROMEO GACAD (Photo by ROMEO GACAD / AFP)

MANILA, Philippines — Juanito Itaas, said to be the “longest-held political prisoner” in the country, has finally been sent home after 32 years in jail.

The 57-year-old Itaas was released on Friday from the New Bilibid Prison, according to Kapatid, a support group for political prisoners’ friends and families.

Judge Gener Gito of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court granted in a ruling dated Nov. 8, 2021, the petition for habeas corpus filed by Itaas’ daughter Jarel.

Gito said Itaas was “entitled to be credited the equivalent days of the GCTA credits earned by him.”

GCTA stands for good conduct time allowance.

“We commend the decision of the court and we hope this will presage more releases of political prisoners who are foisted with trumped-up charges in retaliation for their activism or to make them the fall guy to take the blame for NPA operations,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said in a statement on Saturday.

“We ask the government to let Juanito Itaas live a peaceful life without threats to his security as he deserves to make the most out of every second of his life with his family. This will be the first instance they can begin a normal life together outside prison bars,” Lim added.

The Office of the Solicitor General filed a motion for reconsideration for his release.

“With this clear service of sentence, there is no reason to further prolong Juanito Itaas’ imprisonment or harass him through motions by the Solicitor General. He has already suffered so much and even the US government should realize that in a country where trumped-up political cases are routine, they have the wrong man who was tortured to admit to the killing,” Lim added.

Itaas was arrested on Aug. 27, 1989, as the suspect in the killing of Col. James Rowe of the US Army in Quezon City.

Itaas was sentenced to 39 years and 6 months of imprisonment when he was 25 years old.

Despite this, he got married in prison. He had three children with his wife — a son and two daughters — who were conceived during conjugal visits at the NBP, according to Kapatid.

In 1992, he was recommended for release, which the US government protested. Itaas has already served 32 years, 1 month, and 12 days. The RTC said that with the GCTA, he was eligible to be credited with 10,698 days — or 29.31 years — since his arrest.

Itaas, when asked what he would do now after his release, said in Filipino: “I’ll rest first. I want to be with my family because it’s only now that we’re all together.”


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