The Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) extends its heartfelt appreciation to former Senator Atty. Leila De Lima and Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas, as well as former Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago, for their visit to the political prisoners held at the Correctional Institute for Women on March 22, 2024, as Women’s Month draws to a close.

Currently, there are 10 political prisoners detained at the Correctional Institute for Women, many of whom have been sentenced to life imprisonment or double life for fabricated charges such as illegal possession of firearms and explosives, murder, and double murder. Among them are Cleofe Lagtapon, Alexandrea Pacalda, Maita Abadiano, Marilyn Magpatoc, Jean Publico, Lovely Jane Seronio, Marites Coseñas, Gina Bitangcor, Felicidad Caparal, and Teresita Abarratigue.

In the program organized by the political prisoners, each had the opportunity to introduce themselves to former Senator De Lima, Rep. Brosas, and former Rep. Elago. They shared their accounts of trumped-up charges and unjust sentences imposed by the court.

For instance, Alex Pacalda, a human rights defender affiliated with Karapatan Southern Tagalog and Pinag-isang Lakas ng Magsasaka sa Quezon, was abducted by Armed Forces operatives on September 14, 2019. Following enduring torture and coercion to sign a false affidavit, which she later recanted, Alex was charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, ultimately being sentenced to life imprisonment on March 15, 2023.

Felicidad Caparal, a victim of abduction by state security forces on January 27, 2009, while on her way to her home province in Northern Samar, was sentenced to life imprisonment for fabricated charges of double murder on March 31, 2015. Cleofe Lagtapon, aged 70 and suffering from various health issues, including hypertension and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), was unjustly arrested alongside her husband, peace consultant Frank Fernandez, in Laguna on March 24, 2019, in violation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) accorded to peace consultants and companions.

Former Senator Leila De Lima, herself a former political prisoner, expressed empathy towards the women political prisoners, acknowledging their innocence and the injustice they face. She assured them of raising their plight at a United Nations side event on March 27, where she will serve as a panelist alongside Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.

Rep. Arlene Brosas reiterated her commitment to advocate for the passage of House Bill No. 402, An Act Defining the Rights of Women Deprived of Liberty in Jails and Correctional Facilities and Providing Funds for Their Enforcement, which defines the rights of women deprived of liberty in jails and correctional facilities, addressing concerns raised by the political prisoners regarding new policies implemented at CIW, including the cashless system.

On March 4, Persons Deprived of Liberties (PDLs) from CIW, led by the Women Political Prisoners, voiced their grievances on the exploitative cashless system implemented by the Bureau of Corrections (BUCOR) in collaboration with Rina Ana Trading, a private entity. This cashless system operates per the Memorandum of Agreement between the two entities. The letter outlining their concerns was collectively signed by 3,000 PDLs inside CIW.

Rep. Brosas reassured the political prisoners of her steadfast support for their immediate release, particularly for those who are ill, elderly, or detained alongside their spouses. She also pledged to advocate for the release of the 300 senior citizen PDLs, some of whom have been imprisoned for over 20 years.

As we commemorate Women’s Month, SELDA stands in solidarity with the political prisoners and calls for their immediate release.