Human rights groups press for the urgent release of terminally ill political prisoner

Human rights groups Samahan ng Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA), an organization of former political prisoners, and KARAPATAN renewed their calls for the immediate release of terminally ill political prisoner Ernesto Jude Rimando Jr., a trade union and peasant rights advocate who was arbitrarily arrested on January 6, 2021 and is detained at the Metro Manila District Jail-Annex 2 in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.

On May 18, 2024, Rimando was admitted to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) for medical tests. In his test results, he found out that his liver cirrhosis had progressed to Stage 4 liver cancer, and without proper treatment, he may only have three more months to live. He was also diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pulmonary embolism. Currently, he is undergoing anti-tuberculosis treatment.

“Rimando is literally fighting for his life and freedom. As former political prisoners, we are witness to the struggles of political prisoners like Rimando, whose health and well-being are endangered because of their unjust arrest and detention. Additionally, conditions inside prison are harsh especially for terminally ill individuals like Rimando,” said SELDA spokesperson Danah Marie Marcellana.

“Kumbaga, may taning na nga ang buhay nya, pahihirapan pa sa pagkakakulong niya. Hindi ito makatarungan. Dapat kagyat na siyang palayain at mabigyan ng karampatan at tuluy-tuloy na pagkakataon na makapagpagamot. Hindi makatao ang panatilihin siyang detenido (He has little time left, yet he continues to suffer imprisonment. This is unjust. He should be released immediately and be given appropriate and continuous opportunities for treatment. It is inhumane to let him remain in detention),” she added.

The 58-year old trade unionist, who worked as a researcher for the Alyansa sa mga Mamumuo sa Sugbo, was arrested at his rented apartment in Barangay Payatas, Quezon City on January 6, 2021 by six armed men in plainclothes who used a warrant in the name of “Allan Morales.” He had taken a leave from work to seek treatment for sepsis and liver cirrhosis and had been renting his apartment for a year. At the time of his arrest, Rimando had already been given a poor prognosis by his attending physician, saying he had only a few more years to live. Despite Rimando’s condition, however, he was blindfolded, bound at the wrists with duct tape, physically assaulted and interrogated. The arresting team brought Rimando to the CIDG headquarters in Camp Crame where he was threatened and subjected to further interrogation by another set of policemen.

In his judicial affidavit, Rimando recounted that when he was brought to the inquest prosecutor on January 8, 2021, he noticed that his black backpack containing his personal effects and medical records were brought along. Later, he was to find out that he was being charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, apparently on the basis of “evidence” that had been planted in his backpack.

He was acquitted of these trumped-up charges last April 2023. The trial court gave weight and credence to his “candid and straightforward testimony” vis-á-vis the “unreliable statements of the prosecution’s witnesses” as well as the questionable circumstances of their alleged discovery, seizure, and handling of the firearms, ammunition and explosive allegedly found in his possession.

However, he faces more trumped-up charges in various courts in the Visayas where he was wrongfully alleged as “Allan Morales,” an outright falsity, Rimando asserts.

KARAPATAN Secretary General Cristina Palabay emphasized that “time is of the essence in Rimando’s release, as he faces a battery of treatments for his life and health.”

“The just and humanitarian considerations for his immediate release are overwhelming. Whether through the outright dismissal of the charges against him or by granting bail on recognizance, the courts should heed Rimando’s plea, before it is too late,” she said.