Death of cancer-stricken, elderly political prisoner in Palawan shows callousness, double standard of PH justice system

Political prisoner Antonio Molina, 67, a member of the Katipunan ng Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan, succumbed to complications of stomach cancer at 10 p.m. last night, November 18, 2021, at the Ospital ng Palawan. He was brought to the hospital earlier yesterday when his heart rate collapsed and was intubated after experiencing cardiac arrest. He tested negative for COVID-19 in a rapid antigen test conducted upon his entry to the hospital.

On October 4, 2019, Molina along with six other peasant activists and human rights workers were arrested in a checkpoint in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, after conducting a fact-finding mission in militarized communities. Molina and his companions averred that purported evidence was planted on their vehicle when soldiers and cops flagged them. They were later charged with trumped-up cases of illegal possession of firearms and explosives and were brought to the Puerto Princesa City Jail.

Molina’s lawyers filed a motion for his release on recognizance last September 29, 2021 with the debilitating and advanced stage of his cancer and his not being a flight risk, citing the Supreme Court ruling granting bail to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile in 2015. Judge Ambrosio de Luna of Palawan Regional Trial Court Branch 51 denied this motion on October 15, 2021.

“As we grieve with the family, friends and colleagues of Tatay Antonio Molina, we deplore the heartlessness and injustice he suffered from being imprisoned on trumped-up charges and the denial of his plea for compassionate release. While moneyed and powerful people like Juan Ponce Enrile and Imelda Marcos have been granted bail for massive crimes against the people, poor people like Tatay Antonio have been time and again cruelly denied humane treatment,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

Molina is the 11th political prisoner who died under detention during the Duterte administration, according to Karapatan’s data. All of the 11 are peasant organizers and leaders: Jesus Alegre, Joseph Canlas, Ricardo Manili, Marcos Aggalao, Bernabe Ocasla, Franco Remoroso, Rodrigo Lazar, Alexander Arias, Maximo Redota, and Adelaida Macusang. Two new-born babies of women political prisoners, Baby River and Baby Carlen, have also died while their mothers — Reina Mae Nasino and Nona Espinosa, respectively — are detained.

“These political prisoners had life-threatening illnesses when they were arrested and detained on trumped up charges, and conditions inside prisons have made their conditions worse. Their incarceration had made them more vulnerable — being in an environment that exposed them to minimal if not nil health care and treatment, overcrowded and highly stressful conditions,” Palabay added.

As of August 2021, out of the 709 political prisoners in various jails throughout the country, there were 92 political prisoners with various illnesses, mostly life-threatening ones, and at least 59 elderly and 133 women. At least 486 of them were arrested during the Duterte administration on trumped-up criminal charges.

“These deaths highlight the dire problems of the Philippine justice system, and we can never accept how the Duterte administration has further normalized this trend of weaponizing the law and the courts to criminalize dissent and activism resulting in the deaths of the most vulnerable. The call for the release of all political prisoners is a just and humane call for those violated, imprisoned and left to die in prison,” the Karapatan official ended.