LIST: In furlough requests, political personalities have edge over political prisoners

The heartbreaking updates to the story of activist Reina Mae Nasino’s furlough ended on Friday, October 16, as the grieving mother laid her baby River to rest.

Nasino, 23, was among the activists arrested in late 2019 during a crackdown against leftist groups in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on dissent. She was pregnant with River while she was jailed at the Manila City Jail for the non-bailable charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, the usual charges against activists.

She gave birth to an underweight River in July. Courts denied her request to stay with her baby longer in the hospital, or keep River with her in a prison nursery. River was turned over to Nasino's relatives instead.

Three months after River’s birth, the health of the infant deteriorated from worse to critical. Nasino filed an urgent motion to see her baby, but it was too late – River died from a bacterial infection on October 9, the same day the motion was filed. Nasino was eventually granted a 3-day furlough.

To add salt to the wound, Nasino’s 3-day furlough was reduced to just 6 hours after her detention center said there was not enough manpower to guard her while she was out of jail. Nasino was monitored by 43 officers, with the activist in handcuffs for almost the entirety of her furlough.

Meanwhile, the Philippine courts have easily granted temporary freedom to a number of political personalities for medical check-ups and even events like weddings and birthdays. 

Some were able to enjoy their time outside jail wearing casual clothing and with little restraint.

Here’s a look back at the furlough requests granted to political personalities and how they compare to the experiences of political prisoners who tried their hand at temporary freedom for urgent appointments:

Political personalities

Ramon 'Bong' Revilla Jr

Senator Bong Revilla, who was arrested in 2014 for graft and plunder charges in the infamous pork barrel scam, was allowed numerous times to visit his ailing father, former senator Ramon Revilla Sr, and his confined son Jolo on separate occasions.

In photos of Revilla’s visits in 2015, there appeared to be no 40-officer escort with him.

HOSPITAL VISIT. Detained senator Ramon 'Bong' Revilla Jr makes an emotional visit to son Jolo, confined at the hospital for a gunshot wound, on March 3, 2015.

File photo courtesy of the office of Senator Revilla

In 2018, the Sandiganbayan acquitted Revilla of plunder in relation to the pork barrel scam. He posted a P480,000 bail in exchange for temporary freedom for his 16 counts of graft. (TIMELINE: Bong Revilla's plunder case and the pork barrel scam)

Zaldy Ampatuan

Zaldy Ampatuan, one of 3 brothers convicted of 57 counts of murder of a gory massacre in 2009, was allowed to leave his detention cell to attend his daughter’s wedding on August 21, 2018.

Ampatuan secured a court order for him to attend the wedding from 4 pm to 7 pm that day. The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology said he returned to his cell in the Quezon City Jail Annex before 7 pm.

Ampatuan, who was a suspect at the time of his furlough grant, is one of the masterminds behind the Maguindanao massacre that left 58 people dead – most of whom were journalists.

Jinggoy Estrada

Former senator Jinggoy Estrada was allowed furlough for hospital check-ups at least thrice. At the time, he faced trial for plunder and graft cases over the pork barrel scam.

In 2015, he was allowed to undergo a check-up for pain in his left shoulder. In January 2017, he was allowed a check-up for knee pain. Then in May 2017,  it was an appointment for his right shoulder.

In October 2014, however, the Sandiganbayan denied Estrada's motion for furlough on All Saints' Day.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

In March 2016, former president and Pampanga representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – who was under hospital arrest for a plunder charge – was allowed to spend her 69th birthday at home.

She was allowed to stay in her home from April 4 to 6.

ALLOWED CHECK-UP. Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo arrives at the lobby of the St Luke's Medical Center in Quezon City on October 21, 2015.

File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

The former president was also allowed a two-day medical check-up in October 2015.

Arroyo faced plunder charges over alleged embezzlement of P365.9 million from intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office between 2008 and 2010, when she was president.

Janet Lim Napoles

The mastermind behind the P10-billion pork barrel scam, Janet Lim Napoles, was allowed a 3-week hospital furlough in April 2014.

The convicted plunderer was set to undergo surgery for a cyst in her uterus. She filed an urgent plea to be hospitalized for it.

GUILTY. Janet Napoles emerges from the Sandiganbayan after a guilty verdict was handed down on her plunder cases.

File photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler

In September 2019, Napoles was wrongly included in a list of inmates allowed freedom via good conduct time allowance (GCTA) credits. Napoles was convicted of plunder in relation to a pork barrel scam case in December 2018. There is no way she would qualify for early release based on the GCTA law.

Jessica Lucila 'Gigi' Reyes

Another personality linked to the pork barrel scam, lawyer Gigi Reyes, was allowed to temporarily leave detention in Camp Bagong Diwa for a dental appointment in October 2015.

Reyes, former chief of staff of former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, requested the furlough to determine the severity of her reported tooth infection.

The lawyer is detained over her non-bailable plunder charge with Enrile for allegedly keeping P172.8 million in kickbacks in the pork barrel scam. The Supreme Court granted bail to Enrile in August 2015, citing humanitarian grounds.

Apart from her 2015 furlough, Reyes has been denied freedom multiple times.

Political prisoners

Vic Ladlad

A year after his arrest, Vic Ladlad, a peace consultant for the National Democratic Front (NDF), requested for a furlough to have his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema checked at the hospital.

Ladlad needed an X-ray and a check-up with his pulmunologist and heart internist at Makati Medical Center, but government prosecutors blocked the motion, according to his wife Fides Lim.

Eventually, Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 32 Judge Thelma Bunye Medina allowed the medical motion on humanitarian grounds.

Ladlad was arrested in November 2018 for illegal possession of firearms and explosives. According to Lim, also spokesperson for political prisoners’ rights group Kapatid, the firearms were planted as part of the Duterte government’s crackdown on the Left.

LOOKING FOR VIC. Fides Lim taps the window of the vehicle carrying her husband, arrested NDF peace consultant Vic Ladlad, at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City on November 8, 2018.

File photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

Frank Fernandez

NDF consultant Frank Fernandez, 72, was arrested in March 2019 on a warrant for possession of illegal firerams. He was apprehended with his wife, 66-year-old Cleofe Lagtapon. 

While in prison, Fernandez was granted a 3-day medical check-up for his COPD. Fernandez had bouts of losing consciousness, often falling to the ground, unable to get up without assistance.

He was brought to the Philippine Heart Center, but was handcuffed to his hospital bed, making it difficult to rest or sleep because he couldn’t turn his body or get up to use the restroom.

Fernandez was the 6th NDF consultant arrested by cops and soldiers since peace talks were stopped between the Philippine government and communist insurgents.

Virginia Villamor

Like Fernandez, 69-year-old Virginia Villamor was given a 3-day furlough for a check-up at the Philippine Lung Center. Villamor had hypertension and chronic depression.

According to Kapatid, Villamor “felt harassed” by the constant presence of prison guards during her check-up.

Villamor and her husband Alberto were arrested the same time as Ladlad, and faced the same charge over alleged illegal possession of firearms.

Bernabe Ocasla

Peasant organizer Bernabe Ocasla, 66, died after suffering his third cardiac arrest on November 28, 2016. That day was the first time Ocasla was brought to the hospital, according to rights group Karapatan.

Ocasla died instantly after being in a coma for 3 days.

He died still handcuffed to his bed, according to Kapatid, and the guards “ignored his daughter’s appeals” to remove them.

Rights groups continue to record a growing list of activists who died because of “lack of proper medical attention” and “inhumane jail conditions.” Here are some of them and the ailments they died from:

  • Eduardo Serrano, 62 - lingering heart ailment
  • Alison Alcantara, 55 - pneumonia, sepsis, and fatal arrhythmia
  • Benito Barid, 54 - chronic asthmatic bronchitis
  • Crisanto Fat, 48 - heart attack


Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer at Rappler. Possessing the heart and soul of a feminist, she is working on specializing in women's issues in Newsbreak, Rappler's investigative arm.