Karapatan: Death of political prisoner Jesus Alegre a product of State negligence

Human rights group Karapatan said that heads must roll on the recent death of farmer and political prisoner Jesus Alegre, whose plight for freedom has long been part of almost all campaigns for the release of political prisoners.

“Jesus Alegre. 75. Elderly. Sick. Died in the hands of BUCOR. Denied freedom by the Duterte regime. Let those facts be repeatedly said — for the death of Jesus Alegre is one too many, and our rage with his death is one beyond words,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Palabay further asserted that “death cannot be taken lightly in the case of Jesus Alegre. By lacking the ability to care for the sick and elderly, and further prolonging his agony of keeping them in jail despite numerous efforts to call for this release, we can only hold the Bureau of Corrections accountable for his death. Negligence spells murder in the case of Jesus Alegre.”

75-year old Alegre died on Sunday, June 13 after succumbing to cardiac arrest, having suffered from a number of diseases in his 16 years of detention at the New Bilibid Prisons Maximum Security Compound in Muntinlupa City. His health condition had worsened the past year. It was not certain, however, whether he was tested for COVID-19.

“What kind of system allows the elderly to succumb to death, languish behind bars, and be made to pay for crimes that were clearly trumped-up and were only meant to silence them, for speaking out against an injustice they fought against?” the Karapatan official asked.

The Alegre family is a family of farmers from Sagay, Negros Occidental, who were accused of killing a bodyguard of a local landlord who, consequently, claimed the land tilled by the Alegres. The family had secured papers from concerned government agencies for their claim to the land, but these were rendered futile when they were wrongfully accused and put to prison.

Father Jesus, mother Moreta and one of their children, Selman, were all convicted and sentenced with reclusion perpetua in 2005. Father and son were detained in the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City, while his now widowed 74-year-old wife was sent to the Correctional Institute for Women.

“We hope we can say that Jesus Alegre died a natural death, that his illnesses were all brought out of old age. However, that is not the case for Jesus Alegre. This government can never deny the fact that Jesus Alegre grew very sick due to the long years of detention. Jesus Alegre was in jail under three presidents, and the Duterte regime had all the chance to correct this injustice, but chose to ignore it altogether,” Palabay asserted.

She reiterated Karapatan’s support for the call of families and friends of political prisoners to release Alegre’s widow Moreta, and for the humanitarian release of elderly and sick political prisoners.

“Let the death of Jesus Alegre be a resounding call for the humanitarian release of elderly and sick political prisoners, first and foremost, Moreta Alegre. Let Moreta grieve out of prison, and let justice be served to their family. Let Jesus Alegre’s story remind us that the majority of the population are landless, treated like criminals when they choose to fight, and thrown to jail, with death as the only recourse to be free. There is no other fitting way to remember Jesus Alegre’s death, but to be reminded of the injustices that this system has engulfed the majority of our people,” she ended.