MANILA— Political prisoner Juanito Itaas was released by authorities on Friday after over 32 years of incarceration, human rights group Kapatid said in a statement.
Itaas, the "longest-held Filipino political prisoner" was arrested in Davao in 1989 and sentenced to 39 years in prison over the murder of American Col. James Rowe, then the chief of the Army Division of the Joint RP-US Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG).
He has since maintained his innocence, and said he was tortured into admitting his involvement in Rowe’s assassination.
Rowe was killed in an ambush in Quezon City on April 21, 1989 on his way to work at the JUSMAG office. The New People's Army (NPA) took responsbility for the murder.
Itaas got married while he was incarcerated and his three children, a son and two daughters, were conceived during conjugal visits at the New Bilibid Prison, Kapatid said.
He was released after a Muntinlupa court granted the petition for habeas corpus filed by his daughter, Jarel, who said he "already completed the service of his sentence through the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law under Republic Act 10592."
"He has already served 32 years, 1 month and 12 days. The Regional Trial Court said that with GCTA, he is eligible to be credited with 10,698 days or 29.31 years since his arrest in August 1989," Kapatid said in a statement.
He was set for release in 1992 but did not push through after the U.S. government protested. The NPA and its allied organization the Communist Party of the Philippines are on the US list of foreign terrorist groups.
Now 57 years old, Itaas urged the government to let him live a "peaceful life" with his family.
“We commend the decision of the court and we hope this will presage more releases of political prisoners who are foisted with trumped-up charges in retaliation for their activism or to make them the fall guy to take the blame for NPA operations," Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said.
"We ask the government to let Juanito Itaas live a peaceful life without threats to his security as he deserves to make the most out of every second of his life with his family. This will be the first instance they can begin a normal life together outside prison bars."
Itaas said he will use this time to rest, and acquire certification for his COVID-19 vaccination last November.
“Nagulat ako nung masabihan ako na ayusin ko na ang gamit ko. Di pa rin ako makapaniwala. At nangangamba pa rin ako," he said.
(I was surprised when I was told to pack my things. I still can't believe it. And I'm still anxious.)
The Philippine government has been battling a protracted communist insurgency, with failed efforts for peace negotiations.