Gender Ombud/CHR action sought on pregnant and elderly women charged, detained with terror law

Amid the commemoration of National Women’s Month, human rights group Karapatan, urged the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) as the country’s Gender Ombud to take action on the case of pregnant Elizabeth Estilon and elderly Enriqueta Guelas, who were arrested on trumped-up cases of violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Enriqueta Guelas, 62, and Elizabeth Estilon, 41, were arrested on December 24, 2020 following a raid and alleged planting of evidence inside their house in Brgy. Lalod, Bulusan, Sorsogon by members from 31st and 22nd Infantry Battalions of the Philippine Army. The two women are now detained at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology Sorsogon City District Jail, with Estilon on her 9th month of pregnancy.

“We believe that the rights of Estilon and Guelas to presumption of innocence must be upheld with their right to health and their right as women and mothers, recognized under the Constitution, international human rights instruments, and domestic legislations,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said, in her letter to CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit.

The Magna Carta of Women expressly provides for the protection of senior citizens and measures in aid of women in detention. Under the Bangkok Rules adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010, the non-custodial sentences for pregnant women and women with dependent children shall be preferred, and women with care-taking responsibilities for children shall be permitted to make arrangements for those children, including the possibility of a reasonable suspension of detention, taking into account the best interests of the children.

“We ask the Gender Ombud to closely monitor the situation of Elizabeth Estilon, who is about to give birth this March, as she and her would-be-born baby need medical attention and care. This is a serious matter that needs attention to avoid the incidents involving the deaths of infants like that of women political prisoners Reina Mae Nasino, Nona Espinosa and Andrea Rosal,” Palabay asserted.

Karapatan also urged the Commission to monitor the judicial proceedings on the case filed against Estilon and Guelas, as they are charged with the “draconian” Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

The case of Estilon and Guelas is the second known case of individuals charged uner the terror law, after that of the two Aetas in Zambales.

“The history of women’s plight and oppression has been largely recognized and experienced to this day. The commemoration of the National Women’s Month should not only pertain to this recognition but also to taking actions needed to further uphold women’s rights. Elizabeth Estilon and Enriqueta Guelas, both women political prisoners, need such actions now,” Palabay said.