Before midnight last night, 23 female detainees of the Morong 43 were released after the Morong RTC and MTC issued the much-awaited release order. Nearly an hour later, 10 male detainees were also released after processing. This brings the released detainees to a total of 33 out of the original 43. Five remain under military custody in Camp Capinpin, Tanay, Rizal. Five remain at the BJMP facility in Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan. Our lawyers are still working out their release after patently false and spurious charges were leveled against them on the day of their release. We will fight for the release of all the Morong 43.
Many probably were not able to watch the live broadcast and news reports till midnight when the members of the Morong 43 were released so here’s my account.
I arrived at BJMP in Bicutan at around 130pm because I had just come from Makati, and I figured it would be better to go straight to Bicutan than go back to Quezon City to wait. Upon arriving in Camp Bagong Diwa, I saw Dean Neil Doloricon, husband of Angela, and Ofel Balleta, mom of Jane. I was able to visit the female detention center and talked to some of them. They were a bit anxious. They had prepared a statement as early as December 15. They were in high spirits just the same. They started moving out some of their stuff days earlier.
I also saw members of the media waiting outside the BJMP gates. Some of them have been there since 9am, waiting for the release.
Meanwhile, relatives and health groups were staked out at the Morong courts waiting for the court order. None came during the morning. I was informed early afternoon that there appeared to be a court order already but because of some clerical error, the list seemed to lack some names, they could not issue it yet. This had to be resolved immediately with the DOJ which conducted the review of the case.
Back in Bicutan, we were furnished with a list of “requirements” for the release. Most of it had to do with bureaucratic clearances from the courts and the police. I was given the list by Ofel and had to inform the lawyers of the last minute paper work that had to be accomplished. Someone had to go to the different offices to get the necessary clearance. We had concerns that with the delays, the order might not come during office hours and may further delay the release of the detainees.
At around 4:45, we were informed that a court order had been issued and that the BJMP already had personnel in court ready to receive the order. The relatives gathered at the Morong court erupted in cheers upon learning of the court order. Finally, the day has come. Now they just had to bring the court order and necessary papers from Morong, Rizal to Bicutan.
It was becoming dark outside the BJMP gates. The media were still there with us. Relatives and supporters of the 43 started arriving. Lawyers of the 43 also arrived to check on the processing of the detainees. The BJMP set up a police line to control the flow of people, especially the media.
Earlier, we had been informed of the necessity to discharge the Morong43 detainees who were confined in hospitals. Two Morong moms nursing their babies were at the PGH while one male detainee was brought to the Taguig District Hospital during the hunger strike. Franco was the first to be brought back to the BJMP. Two hours later, the Morong moms Judilyn and Mercy from PGH were also brought in.
Bureaucracy undoubtedly slowed down the process of release. We had to make calls to so many offices, and so many officials just to make sure the proper clearance would be given on the same day.
It was getting close to midnight and we were informed that the processing and release was ongoing. The female detainees were the most likely to be released first as the DOJ had apparently raised some issues in relation to the release of the male detainees.
Just before midnight, it was announced that the female detainees would be coming out. Delia Ocasla was the first to step out of the BJMP gates amid cheers and applause from the crowd. One by one as they walked out the gate, with raised fists and shouting “Palayain ang lahat ng bilanggong pulitikal!” Dr. Merry Mia- Clamor was the last female detainee to step out of the gates. The release was covered live by ANC. The female detainees all wore white shirts that said “I’m proud to be a community health worker”. The detainees walked from the BJMP gate to the parking lot where their relatives were waiting. There was a brief yet tearful reunion for the families of the Morong 43.
Because it was getting late, the detainees immediately boarded waiting vehicles and were brought to the presscon venue in Quezon City. We had a convoy of several cars. Relatives and advocates of the male detainees stayed behind to await the processing of some 15 detainees.
We arrived at the presscon venue in E.Rodriguez, Quezon City at around 1am. We were welcomed by a crowd consisting of various sectors that had supported the 43 during the last 10 months. At this time, the detainees had only seen their families briefly at the parking lot in BJMP. The families rode in separate vehicles. So when the ex-detainees arrived at the venue, that was the first time they really were able to hug and greet their loved ones.
They entered the venue with people singing “Awit ng Pag-asa”, a song that has become sort of a theme song for the detainees themselves. Anyone who has visited the female detainees would know this. Cordillera groups also played indigenous percussion instruments as the detainees entered the room. A short press-conference followed.
At the press-con, the detainees were finally free to fully express themselves. Their media appearance last Dec.10 was under strict regulation by the courts. They were not allowed to discuss anything related to their case. This was the first time they could say anything they wanted, because they were free.
And so Mama Del recounted how the gun was planted in her pillow and how she was accused of possessing a gun even at her age of 62. She recounted how the worst part of her detention was while they were inside the military camp in Rizal.
Tere, a midwife, expressed her desire to go back to community work. All of them wanted to resume their service to the people. Jane read a statement prepared by the group, thanking all their supporters and calling on the government to free all political prisoners.
And yes, the detainees said that they longed to eat something good. They did not eat dinner that day as they were waiting to be processed for release. And they had just come from a difficult hunger-strike. After a brief QnA with the media, we all sat down to eat.
During the presscon, we were also informed that 10 male detainees have been cleared for release. Five more remained inside BJMP in Bicutan. The basis for detaining them ranged from spurious charges to having similar names with other accused. Our lawyers will continue to fight for their release.
Many have asked what of the 5 detained in Camp Capinpin under the military. We have no idea of their situation as of now. The mother of one of the detained in Capinpin, Nanay Adoring, appealed for the release of her son during the press conference. She had not seen her son since March.
It was already 2am. People still had energy. We went home to rest and left the ex-detainees and their families at the venue. I posted my last tweet at around that time. Many had followed the events via twitter and FB. Media outfits like Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly provided continuing coverage of the release.
It was a tiring but happy day for all of us. For those asking where the Morong 43 detainees are and what they are doing, well, they’re with their families. They are resting and they request that they be given some time to spend with their families. The sure deserve it.
P.S. – There were quite some funny moments while waiting for the release order outside the BJMP gates. Anyone who had what appeared to be a court document would be hounded by the media, even if the document had been shown to them several times already. And since we’ve been waiting so long outside, anyone coming out of the gate would be mistaken for a detainee being released. Talk about false alarms. When Beng rushed from the gate to hug me, media thought she was a detainee being released. Beng just came from the Morong PNP to get the police clearance, one of the requirements set forth by the BJMP.