Rights group seeks release of ‘oldest political prisoner’ | Inquirer News

Rights group seeks release of ‘oldest political prisoner’

By: - Reporter / @dexcabalzaINQ
/ 05:20 AM June 19, 2023

Gerardo dela Peña STORY: Rights group seeks release of ‘oldest political prisoner’

Gerardo dela Peña (Photo from Kapatid)

MANILA, Philippines — Now frail and sickly, Gerardo dela Peña just wants the rest of his years to be spent with his family in Camarines Norte province.

As “the oldest political prisoner in the country,” according to rights group Kapatid, Dela Peña, 84, has been serving his sentence time at New Bilibid Prison (NBP) for what he and other groups have described as trumped-up charges against him.


They have been clamoring for the release of “Tatay Gerry,” as inmates call him, since 2019 on humanitarian considerations of his advanced age and declining health.


“Just bring him home alive. It’s the best gift that he will be receiving for Father’s Day and the remaining days of his life. Let’s not wait until it’s too late for him,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim told the Inquirer on Saturday.

“We are asking the Bureau of Corrections, Department of Justice, Supreme Court, and the Philippine government to grant what he has been longing for. Please have a heart,” she added.

‘Wrongfully convicted’

Born on April 23, 1939, Dela Peña, a farmer from Vinzons, Camarines Norte, is the oldest of 824 political prisoners in the country, as tallied by Kapatid.

Lim said “Tatay Gerry” has been in jail for almost 10 years now.

The Regional Trial Court of Daet, Camarines Norte, convicted Dela Peña in February 2014 of murder, for the fatal shooting of his nephew Melchor on April 21, 2001.

Dela Peña was only arrested in March 2013 but was convicted less than a year later. He is currently serving a sentence of reclusion perpetua, or 20 to 40 years in prison.


The prosecution maintained that, based on the testimonies of witnesses, Dela Peña and his brother Armenio were members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who suspected Melchor of being an intelligence asset of the military.

The NPA had claimed responsibility for the killing. But Dela Peña denied he was a communist rebel and said he was merely a “scapegoat” who was “wrongfully convicted.”

He used to head the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda) and was also a member of human rights group Karapatan.

The Supreme Court, however, eventually denied his appeal and affirmed his conviction in November 2019.

‘They love him’

Last year Dela Peña was transferred from the NBP’s maximum security compound to its minimum security compound, occupied by persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) who are 70 and older and those who are about to complete their sentence.

“But transfer to [the] minimum [security compound] is no guarantee of [his] swift release. The longest staying political prisoner has been languishing there [at the minimum security security compound] for three years now due to bureaucratic delays,” Lim said.

She added that “with his background as a human rights worker and former [village councilor], he easily gained the trust of his fellow PDLs. It’s very natural for him to help people. That’s why his fellow PDLs at NBP’s maximum security compound love him.”

“They love their Tatay Gerry so much that they are more than willing to take care of him despite their meager resources inside the NBP. They want him transferred back to Building 11A at the maximum security compound so they can continue taking care of him better,” Lim said further.

According to her, “subhuman conditions” at NBP have aggravated Dela Peña’s hypertension and brought him new ailments.

When Lim visited Dela Peña in 2019, she was told that he had been coughing blood and was also long overdue for a cataract operation.

Lim said the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) has not provided any checkup for Dela Peña.

When Kapatid last visited him in January, Dela Peña said “I’m already old and ill. In the time I have left, I wish I could be with my family.”

His six grandchildren who live in Metro Manila have been visiting Dela Peña regularly, Lim said.

But his wife Pilar and their two children do not even have the money to be able to commute and visit him.

Pilar herself is already old and sickly like her husband, and traveling would be too stressful for her, said Lim.

‘No political prisoner’ freed

Every year since 2019, Kapatid submits Dela Peña’s name to the Department of Justice for inclusion among those considered for release due to humanitarian reasons.

BuCor has released more than 7,000 PDLs since July last year, as it attempts to decongest its facilities. Its director general, Gregorio Catapang Jr., said recently he hoped that President Marcos would approve this year the release of more than 3,000 sick and elderly inmates.

“But no political prisoner has been included in any of the trumpeted government releases of elderly PDLs. Not even one,” Lim said.

She said she did not want Dela Peña to suffer the same fate of another political prisoner in NBP, 75-year-old Jesus Alegre, who died of cardiac arrest on June 13, 2021.

Alegre had been in and out of the NBP Hospital due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes mellitus.

His wake in Manila five days later reunited Alegre’s wife Morita and their son Selman.

Appeal to Supreme Court

Lim said BuCor officials met with Kapatid last Tuesday (June 13) and assured the group that they would look into Dela Peña’s case.

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Kapatid and other groups said they would also appeal once again to the Supreme Court and seek a writ of kalayaan, a legal remedy for PDLs seeking relief amid the congestion and other living conditions in the country’s prisons.


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TAGS: Gerardo dela Peña, Kapatid, oldest political prisoner

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