Release of long-detained political prisoners urged, in light of SC ruling on Gigi Reyes

Human rights alliance Karapatan called on the Supreme Court and local courts to conduct a review or audit of cases and possibly apply to long-detained political prisoners the same ruling that led to the release on bail of Atty. Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile’s former chief of staff.

Reyes faces plunder charges in relation to the pork barrel scam which involved the funnelling of congressional funds to bogus NGOs, and enabled lawmakers to receive multi-million pesos in kickbacks. She invoked the writ of habeas corpus, saying that her nine-year detention without the resolution of her case has violated her right to speedy trial. In August 2015, Enrile, who stands as among the principal accused charges with Reyes, was ordered released on bail by the Supreme Court on “humanitarian grounds.”

“If someone like Reyes can secure her temporary liberty, citing the inordinate delays in the disposition of her case, then in the interest of justice and fairness, long-detained political prisoners should likewise be granted the same opportunity. It is a travesty of justice that those in government like Enrile and Reyes who are closely involved in the pork barrel scam and plunder of public funds are being afforded these remedies, while the poor including political prisoners are being denied of their rights,” said Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay.

Palabay said there are at least 63 political prisoners who have been languishing in jail for the same length of time as Reyes, or even longer. “For instance, caregiver Arlene Panea, call center employee Rex Villaflor and driver Joel Enano were arrested without warrant on March 22, 2014,” said Palabay. “Like many other political detainees, they are facing trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives based on planted pieces of evidence,” said Palabay, “and yet, they have been languishing in jail for close to nine years without their case being resolved.”

Karapatan also cited the cases of peasant organizers Juan Paolo Versoza, a visual artist from the University of the Philippines Diliman at the College of Fine Arts, and his wife Grace, a researcher and poet, who were arrested on June 28, 2013, on trumped up charges of robbery, homicide and illegal possession of explosives. They were arrested in their home in Metro Manila, where their son, Daniel, who was 3 months at that time, was also staying.

In these cases, some of the prosecution witnesses by the State forces do not show up after many subpoenas or there are frequent resets of court hearings, that in some circumstances, those detained are afforded only one to two hearings in court a year.

“We urge the courts to look into the cases of these 63 political prisoners whose right to speedy trial has been violated, along with their other constitutional rights, so that they may secure their long-deserved freedom,” said Palabay.