Inhospitable arrest

For ailing 59-year-old political prisoner Dionisio Almonte, a chance at freedom means getting his life back, in more ways than one.

Inhospitable arrestImagine feeling constant pain and numbness on one side of your body, extending to your arms and legs. Even walking short distances or prolonged sitting or standing is an ordeal in itself. The pain can get even worse at night. Now, imagine enduring these while detained in a cramped prison cell for crimes you didn’t commit, with limited access to medical treatment. 

Such is the ordeal of Dionisio Almonte, who suffers from a herniated (slipped) disc, a spinal condition that causes chronic pain. He has been in detention since January 9, 2014 and is one of the Philippines’ 519 political prisoners awaiting release, as promised by newly-elected president Rodrigo Duterte.

Political prisoners are citizens who are arrested and detained for their political beliefs and actions. These arrests are based on trumped-up charges, usually with arbitrarily issued warrants. Kidnapping, multiples counts of murder, arson and rebellion are just a few of the cases filed against Dionisio, a peasant organizer who is allegedly a New People’s Army (NPA) commander. 

Captive in transit

Dionisio Almonte was undergoing treatment for his health condition when he was arrested. His captors made him endure the 68-kilometer trip from Barangay Ugong, Valenzuela City to Camp Vicente Lim in Calamba, Laguna, with his hands handcuffed behind his back, his eyes masked with three layers of blindfolding, his ears covered with ear gear to prevent him from hearing. Considering his age and health condition, this inhumane treatment put him in extreme pain.

Aside from his spinal condition, Dionisio also suffers from severe diabetes, poor eyesight and poor hearing. Being in prison for the past two and a half years, access to treatment has been difficult, if not impossible. This is not a new phenomenon. He is only one of 125 political prisoners who suffer from a form of illness, caused or further aggravated by inhumane conditions in most of the jails.

Road to recovery

Dionisio’s family, including his wife who was also arrested but was released on bail, are hoping for his release. 

Hindi po mapanatag ang aming isip at kalooban dahil sa dami ng ikinakaso sa kanya, lalo na sa kalagayan niya sa kalusugan (We feel anxious over the number of accusations against him, especially with his health condition.),” read a letter from his wife, Gloria, to President Rodrigo Duterte. The couple has three children. 

Miss na miss na namin siya (We miss him so much),” his son Jeffrey wrote. 

Ang nais po lamang (niya) ay mapalaya ang ating bansa sa kapitalismo at mananakop (He only wants freedom from capitalism and colonialism for our country),” Angela Almonte Sandoval, his daughter, wrote.

Indeed, Dionisio’s arrest and prolonged detention have not only caused distress to himself and his health, but to his family as well. His release will not only help free his ailing body from disease; it will also free his family from the agony of being away from a loved one. And ultimately, along with the release of over 500 political prisoners like him, it will free the Filipino people from fear of exercising their right to organize and express their political beliefs.