Elderly political prisoner seeks Pope Francis’ help for their release

Gerardo dela Pena
Gerardo dela Pena

Gerardo dela Pena
Convicted at the age of 74, Gerardo “Gerry” Dela Peña, 75, political prisoner at the National Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa sends an appeal to Pope Francis: “Sana po ay matulungan mo kaming manawagan sa agaran naming pagpapalaya lalo na kaming matatanda at may sakit. Gusto kong makasama ang pamilya ko sa mga natitirang panahon ng buhay ko. Tumanda akong walang ibang hinangad kundi isang gobyerno para sa mamamayan at hindi saiilan lang. (I hope Pope Francis will help us in our call for immediate release, most especially the sick and elderly. I would want to spend the remaining years of my life with my family. All my life, I only wanted a government that will serve the people and not just the few).”

  De la Peña was arrested by the 49th Infantry Battalion in Brgy. Matango, Vinzons, Camarines Norte on March 21, 2013. He was charged with murder along with five other John Does. He was detained at the provincial jail for one year and seven days and was transferred to the NBP on July 2014. He said he was given only one chance to speak in court and was convicted shortly after his case was heard.
De la Peña is among the 491 political prisoners in the country today, despite government’s denial that political prisoners exist. Of the 491 detained, 53 are suffering from various ailments and 42 are elderly. 
He now complains of his high blood pressure and cataract. “Madalas ako magkasakit dito dahil matanda na rin ako.”  (I frequently get sick here because of old age) He said that he has been away for a long time from his family because of his work, but his family understands. “Para sa akin, pangunahin ang mamamayan dahil bahagi ang pamilya kong mamamayan na ipinaglalaban ko.” (Serving the people is my priority above my family, because my family is part of the masses of Filipino people whom I have been defending.) 
Although he has hearing problems and is already experiencing various ailments due to his age, he vividly recalls stories from his younger years. Tatay Gerry is a farmer from Daet,Camarines Norte. He is the former chairman of SELDA and also a member of Karapatan-Camarines Norte. He was detained for a year during martial law and was charged of robbery in band. According to Tatay Gerry, he ran as Brgy. Captain while in detention, which facilitated his release in 1983. 
Tatay Gerry, as he is fondly called is no ordinary man. At his age and in the most inhuman conditions inside the cramped New Bilibid Prison, he actively participates in educational discussions and writes poems for his six grandchildren. Asked if he remembers any of his poems, he took a pen and a paper and wrote one. 
He later handed the paper where he wrote his poem, it reads:
“Kung kaya ang aking hamon, panawagan sa mga kasama kong bilanggong pulitikal, huwag mag-isipng pansariling kalayaan, kundi itanto sa isipan—ang paglayang lahat ng bilanggong pulitikal, ang paglaya ng buong sambayanan, ang paglaya ng inang bayan. (I call on my fellow political prisoners not to think of their personal freedom, but freedom of all political prisoners, freedom of the people and freedom of our motherland.)
Tatay Gerry vowed to continue his struggle for a just society even if he is in jail. He said that he might not see this in his lifetime but everything he did is his contribution to a better future for his grandchildren and the next generation. “Kahit saan ako makarating, kahit anong hirap, tuloy ang laban” (Wherever life takes me, whatever it takes, the struggle continues).”###