What about us? asks wife of poor inmate


By Arlyn dela Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 07:25:00 10/09/2008

MANILA, Philippines—This mother of two is convinced that justice in the Philippines favors those with connections and influence, like the murder convict Claudio Teehankee Jr. who has been granted executive clemency by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Macquie Ortega said her partner, Ronaldo S. Garcia, had been languishing at the Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm in Occidental Mindoro province for the last 18 years. His crime: theft and robbery and possession of two sticks of marijuana.

Ortega, 36, said that when she was watching the TV reports on Teehankee the other night, she felt “anger and pity—anger at the government system and pity for the poor like us.”

She first sought this reporter through e-mail and then in person to show the documents related to Garcia’s case. She carried a bag full of papers, including one from the Bureau of Corrections showing that Garcia completed his sentence for theft and robbery on June 16, 2002, and for possession of two sticks of marijuana on Nov. 28, 2005.

Escapee

Ortega said she wanted to see Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez at his office to ask him why Teehankee was now a free man and her partner was not. “Bakit ganun?” she said, adding:

“If they will not let me in, I will make a scene just to be able to talk with him.”

Per Ortega’s account, Garcia is still detained because he escaped the first time he was jailed for theft at Sablayan on Dec. 31, 1992.

In 1996, he was rearrested in Pasay City and was found to be carrying two sticks of marijuana. Because of the earlier sentence for theft that he had tried to evade, he was taken back to Sablayan.

But after that, he did everything to serve the penal colony and to put his life in order, according to Ortega.

Based on his prison record, Garcia became an assistant checker, assistant chief petty officer, and “mayor” (leader) of Dormitory 3 for six years. He also became a teacher’s aide, teaching first- and second-grade subjects to his fellow prisoners who had not undergone formal schooling.

Ortega said she was proud of her partner’s record in prison.

“It’s an honor and a victory for an escapee to be given such a high position in the penal colony. It was the first time in the history of Sablayan that an escapee became a ‘mayor,’” she said.
One major problem for Garcia is Section 5 of the 2006 Revised Manual of the Bureau of Pardons and Parole (BPP) which states: “The Board shall not favorably recommend petitions for executive clemency of prisoners convicted of evasion of sentence.”

The BPP has informed Ortega that her partner had to complete the maximum sentence for him to regain his freedom—and that would take place, based on the board’s sentence computation, in 2015.

“He has been serving the penal colony for a long time,” she lamented. “He wants so much to experience living as a free man with his family.”

Childhood sweethearts

Garcia and Ortega were childhood sweethearts.

He was already in prison when she delivered their children, “and they grew up viewing their father, not as an inmate, but as an assistant of the colony officials,” she said.

The children—Jaqueline, 14, and Mark, 8—live and study in Pasay City. With their mother, they visit their father once a month.

Ortega said she had sought help in bringing her partner’s case to the President’s attention.

She said she had visited the Public Attorney’s Office and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), and even sent a letter to the office of Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

But in every instance, she said, she was referred back to the same stumbling block—that Garcia escaped prison in 1992.

An IBP officer has advised her to write Ms Arroyo, citing Article VII Section 19 of the 1987 Constitution which states: “Except in cases of impeachment, or as otherwise provided in this Constitution, the President may grant reprieves, commutations, and pardons, and remit fines and forfeitures, after conviction by final judgment.”

‘But how?’

Ortega quoted the IBP officer as saying that the “best way” was for her to speak personally with Ms Arroyo.

Recalled Ortega: “I said, ‘But how? Can I just appear at her office and plead for her mercy? It’s not like she’s in a mall and she’s approachable. Where will I find someone who will let me speak with the President? Who will pay attention to me?’

“I said, ‘You know, Attorney, I wish I were rich so I can pay someone to help me reach the President. But we’re just poor people.’”

(PDI)

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