Anchor: Abner Mercado
Prisoners are deprived of their liberty because they are convicted of crimes. Regardless of the type and gravity of their offense, they are often severely stereotyped as threats to society that need to be detained all their lives.
Fortunately, the prison system has changed over the years, giving them the chance to renew themselves and prepare them for a life outside their cells. Still, however, majority of the people disregard their wellbeing. They are habitually neglected if not forgotten.
Especially for those whose names do not resound of influence, they are often left faceless and nameless in our society. But while they need to pay for their transgressions, it does not follow that they are stripped away of all of their rights as a person—as a human being. Being a prisoner does not make one worthless and unentitled of mercy.
Abner Mercado continues his crusade to help old and sick inmates spend their final moments with their families in a life of freedom and humanity. With the power of the president to grant executive clemency among prisoners recommended by the Department of Justice (DOJ), there is still hope for the old and sick inmates who have served their prison sentences and have fulfilled requirements.
From the Correctional Institution for Women (CIW) to the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), the stories of the inmates behind bars continue. They are still optimistic that one day, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III will sign their release as he confers his forgiveness upon them.
Natividad Gancuangco and Esmarie Salazar are two of the many women from CIW who have been featured in Abner’s previous episode on executive clemency. They face the camera once again to plead to the President for their freedom.
Natividad is 74 years old. She committed estafa or “bouncing check” years ago. She wishes to spend her twilight years with her family so that she will have a peaceful demise when the time of her passing comes.
At 52 years old, Esmarie is a stage four breast cancer patient and inmate at CIW for simple illegal recruitment. She has been spending her all of her days at the prison clinic for the past two years. Her suffering weakens her not only physically but also emotionally. She is about to give up hope that she will be taken care of her family soon.
While she is not part of the list recommended for executive clemency, Linda Dayao wrote a petition letter on behalf of her fellow inmates. She appeals for President Noynoy’s compassion—that they may be allowed to spend their final days with their families, especially those who are terminally ill.
Abner sought the President’s eldest sister, Ballsy Aquino-Cruz, to give the letter and send their message across. She promised to give it to her brother as she believes in Abner’s crusade as well.
A month has passed since his Krusada on executive clemency was aired. Abner wanted to continue the story and follow up on President Noynoy. In this episode, he sought to feature the conditions of the NBP inmates as well. Their only condition was that the inmates’ faces must be concealed.
In the NBP hospital, he met Querubin Liboon, who has been imprisoned for illegal drugs; Romeo Dela Peña, Fernando Ibis and Salvador Villar for rape.
Querubin has been suffering from oropharengeal carcinoma (undifferentiated) for years now. His cancer is untreatable; doctors are left with no choice but to just treat the symptoms like cough. Because of his condition, Querubin cannot communicate as much but wanted to appeal to the President like the others.
Dr. Ernesto Tamayo of the NBP hospital also took the opportunity to seek for financial assistance or at the very least, to be given new hospital beds for the patients there.
Presently, there are nine terminally ill patients and 91 mentally ill patients at NBP. Fourteen are confined in their Intensive Care Unit (ICU), including Romeo, Fernando and Salvador. They all share the same sentiments as Querubin.
In order to personally follow up the inmates’ petitions, Abner tried his luck to speak to President Noynoy at the National Science and Technology Week Event held at the Mall of Asia (MOA) last July 27.
Only three journalists were allowed by event organizers to ask questions to the President but because of Abner’s persistence and fellow reporter Willard Cheng’s advice, he raised his hand immediately after them.
Fortunately, President Noynoy recognized his “idol” and gave Abner his time. Anxiously, he asked when the President will grant executive clemency, given that there are now only four months left before Christmas. He also specifically cited the conditions of the women in CIW.
President Noynoy confirmed that he signed his first executive clemency grant the week before. Moreover, he said that he has been reviewing the first set of recommended inmates from NBP. He only wants to make sure that they not only have served their sentence with good conduct but also to ascertain that they are no longer a threat to society.
Hastily, Krusada investigated on Presedent Noynoy’s first executive clemency recipient and was shocked by what has been discovered.
NBP inmate Mariano Umbrero was a political prisoner during the Marcos era. He was freed during the Ramos administration but was sent back to prison for kidnapping in 2004. He spent his final years at the NBP’s ICU because of cancer, asthma and diabetes.
Krusada exclusively got hold of the recipient’s documents. It shows that Mariano’s executive clemency certificate was signed on July 19, but he has already died of lung cancer four days before (July 15).
It turns out that even on the date of the press conference, President Noynoy still had no idea that his first signature was put to waste.
In fact, Mariano’s documents were returned by NBP’s record division to Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa’s office last July 25, two days before the press conference. So how come the President did not know about it? How come he was not informed?
Manny Co, Officer-in-charge of the Bureau of Corrections feels sorry for Mariano. He said that the inmate could have been given the chance to reunite with his family if only it was signed day earlier.
Mariano’s family is distraught. Both Clarita Umbrero, Mariano’s widow, and Mhey Umbrero Leyma, his daughter, are dismayed that Mariano was not able to see his dream come true. Mhey says that if only President Noynoy has signed earlier, her father would have died happily, in his family’s arms. He would have been taken to Batangas just as they have hoped for.
Mhey further said that the President should not wait and decide early on.
Nevertheless, Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte extended her condolences on behalf of the Malacañang and wished that while the certificate arrived too late, it may have lightened their family’s sorrow.
In brief, prior the incident, DOJ Secretary Leila De Lima released a directive which pushes for the speedy processing of prisoner documents recommended for parole and executive clemency. The selection process is included in this order. It also gives priority to inmates with terminal illnesses.
As the episode came to an end, Abner thanked all those who watched his previous story on executive clemency and all those who keep on supporting his crusade.
Krusada, together with Abner Mercado, will continue to campaign for executive clemency for deserving inmates. Watch out for the third instalment of our “Laya” (Freedom) episodes.
August 4, 2011