Labor and human rights activists called on the Philippine government on Sunday, Father’s Day, for the release of detained unionist dads and other political prisoners.
The Free Our Unionists Network and Defend Jobs Philippines held what they described as the #FreeThyFathers family day outside the Commission on Human Rights office in Quezon City.
“There will be no greater way to honor and pay tribute to our fathers today, but to free all the wrongfully-accused and detained fathers who were just doing labor advocacy and human rights work,” said Christian Lloyd Magsoy, spokesperson of Defend Jobs Philippines.
Magsoy said the unionist fathers and other activists who are behind bars don’t deserve prison, adding that “organizing trade unions, advocating labor rights, and unionism will never be forms of terrorism nor a criminal act.”
Human rights group Karapatan, meanwhile, decried the death of political prisoner Jesus Alegre, 75, while in detention in the country’s maximum security prison.
“Let those facts be repeatedly said — for the death of Jesus Alegre is one too many, and our rage with his death is one beyond words,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.
Alegre died on June 13 after succumbing to cardiac arrest, having suffered from a number of diseases in his 16 years of detention at the New Bilibid Prisons Maximum Security Compound in Muntinlupa City. His health condition had worsened in the past year.
“What kind of system allows the elderly to succumb to death, languish behind bars, and be made to pay for crimes that were clearly trumped-up and were only meant to silence them, for speaking out against an injustice they fought against?” said Palabay in a statement.
Alegre came from a family of farmers in the central Philippine town of Sagay in Negros Occidental province. He and his family were accused of killing a bodyguard of a local landlord who, consequently, claimed the land tilled by the Alegre family.
The family had secured papers from government agencies for their claim to the land, but these were rendered futile when they were put in prison.
Jesus, his wife Moreta, and one of their children, Selman, were all convicted and sentenced with life in prison in 2005. Jesus and Selman were detained in the New Bilibid Prisons while his now widowed 74-year-old wife was sent to the Correctional Institute for Women.
“We hope we can say that Jesus Alegre died a natural death, that his illnesses were all brought out of old age. However, that is not the case for Jesus Alegre. This government can never deny the fact that Jesus Alegre grew very sick due to the long years of detention,” said Palabay.
“Jesus Alegre was in jail under three presidents, and the [President Rodrigo Duterte] regime had all the chance to correct this injustice, but chose to ignore it altogether,” she added.
“Let the death of Jesus Alegre be a resounding call for the humanitarian release of elderly and sick political prisoners, first and foremost, Moreta Alegre,” Palabay said.
Data from human rights group Kapatid said there are at least 600 political prisoners currently detained in various jails across the country, at least 60 of whom are considered sickly while close to 50 are elderly.