As informal talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are underway, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) reiterated its call for the unconditional release of peasant political prisoners particularly elderly and sickly inmates that remain incarcerated despite repeated demand from sectors.

“Close to 400 political prisoners remain imprisoned. Those who were released in the past months were released through dismissal of legal cases. Majority of the political prisoners are farmers who were charged with fabricated and trumped-up charges,” said Danilo Ramos, the newly-elected chairperson of KMP. “The imposition of Martial Law in Mindanao also increased incidents of harassment and threats against farmers and peasant leaders.”

“More than 80% of the political prisoners are poor farmers from different provinces. Their cases are mostly criminal cases that emanated from agrarian and land dispute cases. They have been languishing in jails for many years. They do not deserve this kind of injustice.”

“If only for humanitarian reasons, the government should release sick and elderly political prisoners as soon as possible without any precondition. They will not live for a long time. The government should pardon them and let enjoy freedom in their remaining years. We do not want another Bernabe Ocasla who died waiting in vain for President Duterte to fulfill his commitment to release political prisoners,” Ramos said.

Farmer Bernabe Ocasla, an elderly inmate from Eastern Visayas, died in November last year while waiting for his papers to be processed by the GRP and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP). His name was included in the list of sick and elderly inmates for release. Ten political prisoners were released through presidential pardon early this month, but hundreds more remain in jail.

The KMP leader said that the continuing incarceration of political prisoners reveals the insincerity of the GRP in the peace process and the forging of a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER).

Among the highlight cases is that of the Alegre family who have been unjustly jailed for more than a decade due to trumped-up murder charges. Couple Jesus Adolfo Alegre, 72 years old, Moreta Alegre, 70 years old and their son Selman Alegre, 42 years old, are poor farmers from Sagay, Negros Occidental. They were convicted and sentenced with life imprisonment and jailed in Negros from 2005 to 2009 and were later transferred to the National Bureau of Penitentiary (NBP) and Correctional Institute for Women in Manila. Jesus and Moreta are suffering from various illnesses due to old age and poor living conditions in jail while Selman also has medical ailments. In 1990s, the Alegre couple filed a case against a local landlord claiming their small parcel of land. In 1994, armed goons of the said landlord attacked the Alegre family. One of their sons, Romeo Alegre, died in the incident while Jesus, Moreta and Selman survived the attack. In 2005, the Alegres were illegally arrested and jailed. “We demand the release of the Alegre family and all political prisoners,” Ramos said. ###