>News Update ‘Oldest’ woman political prisoner freed on 3rd day of peace talks

>On the third day of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), a Misamis Occidental court ordered the release of a 66-year-old woman, believed to be the country’s oldest political prisoner, after almost six years in prison.

In a statement released Saturday night, the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) said peace advocate Angelina Bisuña Ipong was released from the Misamis Occidental Provincial Jail in Oroquieta City, after criminal charges against her were dismissed.

UPLM said Judge Bernadette Paredes-Encinareal ordered the dismissal of charges of double murder, double frustrated murder and arson against Ipong, a lay missionary and teacher who has been in prison since 2005.

She was subsequently released on February 17, the third day of the peace negotiations between the government and the NDFP commenced in Oslo, Norway.

The cases were filed against her by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), according to UPLM.

Arrested on Women’s Day

The UPLM said Ipong’s release came a few weeks before March 8, International Women’s Day, which also marks the sixth year since her arrest in Aloran, Misamis Occidental.

“UPLM hails the dismissal as a victory in the fight against massive human rights violation committed by state forces, as the cases were fought mainly on the merits by Ipong and her counsel in the past six years,” the UPLM stated in its release.

According to UPLM, earlier repeated calls by both local and international groups and individuals for her release on humanitarian grounds had been ignored, especially during the time of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The release said that UPLM vice chairperson Emiliano Deleverio, who served as Ipong’s counsel, received a copy of a letter from Pablito Sanidad, a member of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) peace negotiating panel and himself a human rights lawyer, sent to the court asking to expedite its decision on Ipong’s cases.

“UPLM… acknowledges the critical importance of Atty. Sanidad’s letter to the court, and the overall significance of the peace process in her eventual release,” the group said.

Ipong was a graduate of the Ateneo de Naga University and a member of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in Mindanao.

She was arrested by policemen and soldiers on March 8, 2005, and was accused of being community organizer for the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA).

She was likewise linked to bus bombings and murders in Mindanao, but she and various groups had maintained the charges were fabricated.

“She was blindfolded by elements of the 1st Tabak Division of the Philippine Army and held incommunicado for a week; she was also tortured and sexually molested,” UPLM alleged in the same statement.

UPLM is now calling on the Aquino administration to order the unconditional release of other political prisoners all over the country, estimated by various groups to be over 300, as a goodwill gesture from the government in light of the peace process. (See: Bayan to Aquino: Have a heart, release all political prisoners)

“Political prisoners are prisoners of conscience for any repressive administration. Anyone espousing a political belief should not be imprisoned,” the group said.

Two others earlier arrested

Just three days before Ipong’s release, however, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) leader Alan Jazmines was arrested in Baliuag, Bulacan on charges of rebellion and murder.

The CPP has maintained the charges were trumped up, and that Jazmines is an NDFP peace consultant and is therefore granted covered by immunity under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) that both sides are supposed to observe. (See: Jazmines: My arrest is a sabotage of peace process)

Apart from Jazmines, Ericson Acosta, another suspected leader of the CPP, was likewise arrested on February 13 by the Philippine Army, but his arrest was announced only three days later. (See: Army: Another CPP official in govt hands)

On the other hand, the NPA, CPP’s armed wing, released retired Master Sergeant Mario Veluz of the Philippine Armyand PO3 George Sabatin of the Philippine National Police on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Government forces and the NDFP are currently observing a ceasefire to mark the resumption of peace talks from February 15 to 21 after nearly seven years.

Talks between the NDFP and the government crumbled in 2004 after the Philippine government under then President Arroyo rejected the NDFP demand to urge the US and the European Union to take the NPA and the CPP off the list of international terrorist organizations.—JV

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