Statement of the Commission on Human Rights calling for the immediate release of the oldest political prisoner in the Philippines

Statement of the Commission on Human Rights calling for the immediate release of the oldest political prisoner in the Philippines

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) urges the Philippine government to expedite the release of Gerardo “Gerry” Dela Peña, the oldest political prisoner in the country, after having served more than a decade of his prison term as of 2024.

Dela Peña, 85, was arrested on 21 March 2013 at the age of 74 in Vinzons, Camarines Norte. He has overserved with his more than 12 years of being detained, not including the total good conduct time allowance points he has accrued. In his decade-long imprisonment, his health has now declined, with his eyesight and hearing also deteriorating.

It must be remembered that Dela Peña is already entitled for release after being qualified for executive clemency, including other political prisoners and persons deprived of liberty (PDLs). This is pursuant to Resolution No. OT-08-02-2023 of the Board of Pardons and Parole which grants detainees release, for those who are at least 70 years old and have served at least 10 years of their sentence. The said Resolution also takes into consideration those who suffer from terminal illness or serious disability.

The Commission calls for the immediate release of Dela Peña. As a State signatory to the Basic Principles on the Use of Restorative Justice Programmes in Criminal Matters, the Philippine government should put primacy to efforts which ensure a humane correctional system in the country. This discussion also includes the need to take into consideration the elderly and sickly PDLs who are imprisoned in congested spaces, where their conditions may worsen.

Additionally, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, or the Mandela Rules, specifies that “[n]o prisoner shall be subjected to, and all prisoners shall be protected from, torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, for which no circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification.” [1] The CHR remains firm in its stance that putting PDLs in situations which further aggravate their condition, especially those which directly affect their well-being, is a form of cruel and inhumane treatment.

We take this opportunity to call for the release of PDLs who have demonstrated good behavior and have met the legal standards for executive clemency as this would greatly help towards the government’s ongoing jail decongestion efforts.

We also continue to urge the Congress to work towards the passage of the country’s National Preventive Mechanism bill in compliance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This will further allow the Philippine government to reflect its commitment towards ensuring the welfare of PDLs across the country through well-grounded policies.

The Commission looks forward to the immediate release of Dela Peña and other PDLs who have already been granted executive clemency. As the country’s national human rights institution, we remain committed to our own Constitutional mandate on protecting, promoting, and fulfilling the rights of all, including those in places of detention.###

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[1] UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules), https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Nelson_Mandela_Rules-E-ebook.pdf