MANILA, Philippines — On April 19, 2017, Jose Ceriales, 54, emerged from the New Bilbid Prison a free man.
It was just two weeks shy of the day 32 years ago, on May 3, 1985, when the native of Manjuyod town in Negros Oriental, then only 22, was arrested in Dumaguete City on what human rights group Karapatan said were “false charges” of multiple murder and double frustrated murder.
Karapatan deputy secretary general Jigs Clamor said Ceriales spent the next eight years after his arrest at the Negros Oriental provincial jail and, after his conviction, he was shipped off to the NBP where he spent the next 24 years, making him, by the time he was released, the longest detained political prisoner in the country.
While Ceriales was in the list of political prisoners the National Democratic Front of the Philippines asked the government to release immediately, he was not freed because of this but because he had finished serving his sentence, the third to do so, Clamor said.
The two others, Miguel Panhay and Gerald Robles, who were freed from the Davao Penal Colony on March 18 and 31, respectively, served 11 years each.
While happy at being free again, Clamor said Ceriales “cannot forget the injustice he suffered” from the time of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos all the way to President Rodrigo Duterte.
Despite the release of Ceriales, Panhay and Robles, Clamor said the number of political prisoners in the country has remained at 400 as of April 19 because of new arrests. And, he said, even if more are freed, the numbers are unlikely to change much “so long as the current administration continues with the practice of filing trumped-up charges and illegally arresting individuals to inhibit them from continuing with their work, which commonly involves organizing and service to the country’s oppressed and marginalized sectors.”