Rights group slams wrongful conviction of two political prisoners

“We condemn the wrongful conviction of political prisoners Lilia Bucatcat, 72, and Billy Morada. Accused with trumped-up charges by the government, they have been languishing in prisons in different parts of the country for crimes they did not commit. Both are peasant organizers in the Eastern Visayas region. It is infuriating that the Duterte government wrongfully convicts activists and human rights advocates while the government forces behind human rights violations are parading free,” said Karapatan Secretary General Crisitina Palabay, referring to the recent acquittal of military generals involved in the illegal arrest of the “Morong 43” health workers back in 2010.

On July 3, 2019, the Regional Trial Court, Branch 30 in Basey, Samar convicted Lilia Bucatcat for the crime of frustrated homicide and sentenced her to a minimum of four (4) to a maximum of eight (8) years of imprisonment. Other trumped-up cases filed against Bucatcat, including a frustrated murder and robbery case, were dismissed. 

Bucatcat was a peasant organizer in Samar province. She was illegally arrested on March 9, 2017 while she was walking her dog at the Marikina River Banks. No warrant of arrest was presented to her during the said arrest. 

"Time and again, we are confronted with cases that expose the flaws and double standard of the country’s justice system. The elderly are not exempt in the government’s vindictive campaign against activists, even as Bucatcat has already retired from organizing work and was spending time with her family when she was arrested. Contrast this with the way this government handled the cases of Imelda Marcos and Gloria Arroyo, and we see a clear picture of injustice and doling out of political favors,” Palabay recounted.

Meanwhile, another political prisoner has been falsely convicted for the charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. The Branch 128 of Regional Trial Court in Caloocan City promulgated its decision in the case of Felimon Tuba, Jr. and Billy Morado on June 28, 2019, acquitting Tuba, Jr. but wrongfully convicting Morado of six (6) years to eight (8) years of imprisonment.

"During the arrest of Tuba, Jr. and Morado, no arrest warrants were presented. The CIDG forced their way inside their residence in search of firearms but to no avail. They instead took a handful of belongings, including a motorbike, blood pressure equipment, brand new laptop and watch, cell phones, and cash. These were never returned. If there are criminals worthy of conviction in this scenario, it is none other than the police who violated the rights of both Tuba and Morada, and planted evidence in their belongings, " Palabay added.

According to the data gathered by Karapatan, there are now a total of 545 political prisoners in the country as of June 2019, 288 of them were arrested under the Duterte regime. Prior to the false conviction of Bucatcat and Morado, political prisoner and trade unionist Maoj Maga was also wrongfully convicted back in July 3, 2019. “These are all part of a systematic policy to jail and silence critics, in line with the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA) and government’s counterinsurgency program,” Karapatan explained. 

“Amidst these convictions, Karapatan will continuously demand the immediate release of those imprisoned over groundless accusations, planted evidence, perjured testimonies and trumped-up charges. Their unjust detention is an indication of how the Duterte government responds with repression when their anti-people policies are being challenged,” Palabay furthered.

"There is a structure of impunity that jails the innocent and the critics, and frees the criminals. This government has actively perpetuated a culture of gross impunity. There is no justice for the families and victims of rights violations under Duterte's leadership, only impunity and continuing injustice. Thus, there is a need to effect change in leadership that is truly responsive to the needs and demands of the majority. This coming July 22, on Duterte’s 4th State of the Nation Address, we enjoin everyone to join the kin of political prisoners, along with various groups and human rights advocates, in calling for the release of all political detainees on just and humanitarian grounds," Palabay ended.