KARAPATAN on the recent release of oldest political prisoner in PH

Eight-five year old Gerardo dela Peña, the oldest political prisoner in the Philippines, was finally released from the New Bilibid Prisons at 9:30 p.m. of June 30, 2024 by virtue of executive clemency. He had been behind bars for more than 11 years for a trumped-up murder charge.

Tatay Gerardo’s release was the result of a campaign by human rights organizations here and abroad. In recent months, various groups steadily stepped up the pressure to secure his release.
Coming from a family of land tillers, Dela Peña was a peasant organizer in Bicol. In his younger years as an activist, he was detained and tortured by the police and military under the Marcos dictatorship in 1982. After his release, he chaired the SELDA (Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto) chapter in Camarines Norte. He persisted in his activism, working with various other people’s organizations in the region, despite threats to his life and liberty.

Dela Peña’s arrest in 2013 was for a murder that had allegedly occurred 12 years before. His brother Armenio was also arrested in 2013 on the same charges, but died in prison of a heart attack.
Dela Peña began losing his vision due to cataracts and became hard of hearing as he counted his days in prison. The campaign for his release had resulted in the commutation of his 20- to 40-year sentence to 12 years last March 2024. At that time, counting time served for good behavior, Tatay Gerardo should have been released forthwith, were it not for bureaucratic rigmarole. The grant of executive clemency facilitated his eventual release, but should have been a superfluous measure given the circumstances of his case.

Nonetheless, Tatay Gerardo can now spend his twilight years with his family, who have missed him for more than a decade.

The struggle continues for about 90 other elderly political prisoners like Tatay Gerardo who should likewise be released on just and humanitarian grounds.