Karapatan hails renewed campaign for Writ of Kalayaan amid surging COVID-19 cases

Human rights alliance Karapatan threw its support behind Kapatid’s renewed campaign for a Writ of Kalayaan aimed at addressing the urgent need to decongest jails and safeguard the lives of vulnerable prisoners, in light of the resurgent threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kapatid, a support group composed of friends and relatives of political prisoners, trooped to the Supreme Court yesterday to petition for a Writ of Kalayaan. Among the political prisoners being highlighted is Gerardo dela Pena, who, at the age of 83, is the country’s oldest political prisoner. Kapatid’s appeal is to have De la Pena released and brought back home to his family alive.

In line with Kapatid’s commitment to upholding human rights and advocating for the humane treatment of political prisoners, it initiated in 2020 a petition for the humanitarian release of at-risk political prisoners, especially the ailing and elderly. Unfortunately, that appeal was denied. Today, armed with the collective voice of its members and the support of other individuals, Kapatid returned to the Supreme Court with renewed appeals to ensure the release of vulnerable political prisoners.

Among those who trooped to the Supreme Court were newly released political prisoners Reina Mae Nasino, Alma Moran and Ram Carlo Bautista (collectively known as the Tondo 3). Reina Mae had been the focal point of an intense campaign by Kapatid when she was forcibly separated from her infant daughter who was born while she was in detention. When her baby later died of respiratory complications, the mother and child’s plight was further dramatized after authorities restricted Reina Mae’s access to the child during the wake and interfered with the funeral cortege.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise once again, it is imperative to prioritize the safety and well-being of all individuals within the prison system, including political prisoners who have been unjustly detained and do not deserve a single day in jail. Overcrowded and unsanitary prison conditions have proven to be breeding grounds for the rapid transmission of the virus, endangering the lives of prisoners who are already at heightened risk due to age, pre-existing medical conditions, or other vulnerabilities. Visitations to Bureau of Corrections facilities are currently banned after a resurgence of Covid-19 cases.

Gerardo dela Pena, at the ripe age of 83, represents a poignant reminder of the urgent need to secure the release of elderly political prisoners. His advanced age and fragile health underscore the inherent humanitarian imperative to grant him freedom and allow him to spend his remaining years with his loved ones. We hope that the Supreme Court will recognize the urgency of his case and take swift action.

Let his case be a test of how the Writ of Kalayaan can prove to be a vital instrument in addressing the plight of political prisoners, granting them the opportunity to return home and reunite with their families.