Press Statement
16 March 2016

On GMA’s birthday furlough: Some are luckier than others

Birthdays are almost always a happy occasion at any time, place and circumstance.

Yet the reported grant of a 3-day furlough to detained former President Gloria Arroyo “to celebrate her 69th birthday” takes the cake. Is she going to enjoy this privilege every year hence lest someone misses the party?

On such an outstandingly petty whim, a high-profile, well-connected and rich detention prisoner facing serious charges of corruption will enjoy what thousands of others can never even imagine. For those staying behind, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

And it comes not too far away from the controversial decision to grant bail to another high and mighty ostensibly on “humanitarian grounds.”

With these, can we blame the ordinary mortals when they ask again with all candor and perplexity , is this not Exhibit “A” for double standards and preferential treatment for a few who are luckier than others?

How can we as lawyers with all confidence, credibility and fortitude say it ain’t so?

Time and time again, we have said everybody deserves humanitarian treatment, even those we hate or dislike for cogent reasons.

But what about those who have less in life or those that the status quo are not in its good graces?

Consider for instance these political prisoners who died while in detention under the present cruel, insensitive regime: Crisanto Fat, 48 years old, peasant leader, died on 20 Sept 2011 due to heart attack; Alison Alcantara, 55 years old, died on 16 Sept 2013 due to pneumonia, sepsis and fatal arrhytmia; Benito Barid, 54 years old, died on 18 Sept 2014 due to chronic asthmatic bronchitis; and Eduardo Serrano, 62 years old, died on 8 Jan 2016 due to lingering heart ailment.

We are also pained that aging and seriously ill political prisoners like Adelberto Silva, Wilma Austria, Alexander Birondo, Ramon Argente, Sharon Cabusao, Concha Araneta and Tirso Alcantara , among others, need to go through the eye of the needle to get adequate, let alone prompt, medical attention.

Of course we will never forget how inhuman and cavalier the treatment was of the babies of political prisoners Andrea Rosal and Miradel Torres while they were in squalid conditions you would not wish on the children of your most vicious enemies.

God knows how many more countless, nameless, faceless detention prisoners are out there who are as sick and old or are suffering even worse than Mrs. Arroyo.

And they were not even asking to celebrate their birthdays outside prison. All they wanted was to be treated as human beings.

Aside from these basic laws of humanity, it is well to remind President BS Aquino – or the succeeding administration- that it has legal obligations under the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners adopted by the UN and approved by the UN Economic and Social Council in 1957, and the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (UN General Assembly Resolution 43/173 of 1988), which it should abide and afford to all detainees, 69 years old or otherwise.

So, are we going to ask now all our handling defense lawyers all over the country to file motions for birthday furloughs and prepare petitions for bail based on the egregious yet accidentally beneficial precedents for Mrs. Arroyo and Mr. Enrile?#


Atty. Edre U. Olalia
NUPL Secretary-General

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National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)
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“By calling yourselves the ‘people’s lawyer,’ you have made a remarkable choice. You decided not to remain in the sidelines. Where human rights are assaulted, you have chosen to sacrifice the comfort of the fence for the dangers of the battlefield. But only those who choose to fight on the battlefield live beyond irrelevance.”

– Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, in his message at the NUPL Founding Congress, September 15, 2007

“After long years of experience as a people’s lawyer, I can honestly say it has been a treasured journey of self-fulfillment and rewarding achievement. I know it will be the same for all others who choose to tread this path.”
– Atty. Romeo T. Capulong, NUPL founding chairperson, in his keynote address at the Fifth Conference of Lawyers in Asia Pacific ( COLAP V), September 18, 2010