A long fight towards freedom – Bulatlat

July 2, 2024


Gerardo Dela Peña with his son. (Photo by Dominic Gutoman/Bulatlat)

By DOMINIC GUTOMAN
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – “Happy beyond words, I cannot express it enough,” said Gerardo Dela Peña in Filipino, the country’s oldest political prisoner at the age of 85, in an interview yesterday, July 1.

Dela Peña was accompanied by his son, Melchor Dela Peña, after he walked out from the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa on June 30, 9:30 p.m. A simple celebration also commenced with the preparation of Kapatid, a support organization of families and friends of political prisoners in the Philippines, and Karapatan, a national network of human rights individuals and organizations.

These groups called for the release of Dela Peña for years. The Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) released a Resolution No. 08-02-2023 last year, allowing executive clemency (EC) for prisoners who have reached 70 years old and served ten years of their sentence. EC is the pardon granted by the president upon BPP recommendation.

Read: Government says no executive clemency for oldest political prisoner

Dela Peña is eligible under this resolution and was supposed to be released in December 2023 but his EC was previously denied. Now, the Malacañang has commuted his sentence, along with his good conduct time allowance (GCTA), serving as the ground of his release.

Rebuilding family

In an interview with Bulatlat, Dela Peña said that he will spend his remaining time with his family and help them in their livelihood. “It’s been six years since I last saw my wife. I also have two sons, and six grandchildren.”

“I still know how to farm. I know how to plant, compost, and I also studied organic farming. As long as I am alive I will help my family,” said Dela Peña, underscoring that their family has coconut and farming lands.

Melchor also said that they plan to go to the province and rebuild their life there. “A lot of people are waiting for him. Our family, residents from our barangay and other areas. It is because he was a good barangay captain and kagawad for years, he was good to all the people there.”

Gerardo Dela Peña finally released from prison. (Photo by Dominic Gutoman/Bulatlat)

When Dela Peña was released from the NBP’s external relations holding area, his son Melchor traveled from Bicol to pick him up, accompanied by Fides Lim, spokesperson of Kapatid.

“I also cannot articulate our feelings. Once we reach home, we will do our best to support him as our father,” Melchor added.

Assertion of innocence

While this is a victory for Melchor and the political prisoners, he reiterated that the charges against him were unjust. “The charges against me are made-up. I cannot even hurt my children and relatives. I cannot kill a person, especially my family.”

Dela Peña was charged with the murder of his nephew, which he denied. He recalled that during the time of the incident, he was celebrating the fiesta in their barangay. The New People’s Army (NPA) claimed responsibility for the killings. However, the decision of the Supreme Court remained firm, convicting him in 2013 after testifying in court only once.

Read: Frail body, sharp mind: Oldest political prisoner longs for freedom

“He is a good father, we are always following him. He did not show anything bad to us. He treats us not only as his children, but also as his friends,” said Melchor.

Dela Peña was a former Chairperson of SELDA (Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto) – Camarines Norte. He was arrested at the age of 75 for a murder case despite evidence supporting his innocence and the admission of responsibility by the NPA. Throughout his incarceration, he maintained his innocence and his advocacy for human rights.

“He told me that he thought he could only be released in the prison covered in white blanket,” Lim said.

Challenges and hardships

Kapatid is at the forefront of the consistent campaign, not only for the release of Dela Peña, but all the political prisoners in the country. Dela Peña and his son thanked Kapatid for their efforts and unrelenting support to the family.

“We are very happy that Tatay Gerry can finally return home to his family and reunite with his wife Pilar in their twilight years. His release is a milestone for human rights campaigns, but also serves as a stark reminder of the obstacles that impede the release of political prisoners,” said Lim.

“Tatay Gerry’s journey to freedom was very difficult because of systemic challenges and bureaucratic delays. It’s concerning why the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) could not immediately implement its own Board Resolution No. OT-08-02-2023 allowing executive clemency for prisoners who have reached 70 years old and served ten years of their sentence,” Lim added.

BPP wrote on Kapatid, stating that they recommended the commutation of Dela Peña’s sentence to twelve years. This means that Dela Peña has overserved his commuted sentence, as he was incarcerated for more than 12 years and 2 months, aside from the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) he gathered.

“Every additional minute behind bars is a gross injustice for an innocent man,” said Lim.

In an interview, she also highlighted that Dela Peña’s freedom served as a lesson that the government and the human rights organizations can work together to facilitate release of political prisoners with highly legal and humanitarian considerations.

(Photo by Dominic Gutoman/Bulatlat)

“This could be possible, especially with the Department of Justice. They should look at their hearts in these crucial situations. Let human rights, justice, and the simplest rule of humanity dictate,” Lim added.

Inspiring hope and determination

Dela Peña was not able to meet his fellow political prisoners for the last time, before his release. However, he stressed the continuous call to free all the political prisoners in the country.

“There are political prisoners there who have been detained for almost thirty years. I pray and call for their release, especially the elderly people [deprived of liberty] who are already in their twilight years. I hope they get to reunite with their family,” said Dela Peña.

His son also said that he witnessed the precarious situation of the political prisoners. “I also saw, not only my father, but also those who were struggling because of their age and political prisoners who are still detained.”
“I want to tell them to be strong. I hope that our wait and our perseverance will serve as an inspiration to them. We almost thought that we would not see this day, that we would not be able to bring our father home. But it happened,” Melchor added.

The family extended their gratitude to all the human rights organizations who helped them, individuals who campaigned for their release, and the Department of Justice and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

They also especially thanked the Makabayan Bloc lawmakers who helped them be heard in the Congress: Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas, ACT-Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro, and Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raoul Manuel.

“The release of political prisoner Gerardo Dela Peña is a testament to the power of perseverance, vigilance and community in overcoming challenges. We extend our heartfelt thanks in particular to Justice Secretary Boying Remulla for facilitating his release, the Commission on Human Rights for its unwavering support, and everyone here and abroad who helped in this collective effort,” said Lim. (https://www.bulatlat.org)





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