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[Featured Article] 28 killed in alleged political killings in Escalante under mayor’s term By Merck Maguddayao

28 killed in alleged political killings in Escalante under mayor’s term
By Merck Maguddayao

escalante poster

They always left their gates open.

In this rural village of Libertad in Escalante City, Negros Occidental, the only forbidding entity for village chief Fernando and wife Teresita Damalerio were the neighborhood drunks who, after long drunken stupors would engage in shouting matches, chases, and fistfights. Being the elected peace maker, Fernando would step in to settle the tipsy men, most of the time within the gates of his home.

Other than those occasional fracases, the people of Libertad lived their life slowly by tending their own farm or construct projects in good old bayanihan (collective labor) fashion, unlike the atomized atmosphere of the Metro. That’s why in the peripheries of urbanizing Escalante, it is okay to leave the gates open.

But not until November 8, 2007. Elected a month earlier as barangay captain, Fernando, together with his son Ferjun and kagawad (village councilor) Neptali Narvasa, went to the Commission on Elections branch office in downtown Escalante to file his statement of campaign expenses. At nightfall, as they approached home, violence occurred, but not the type carried out by drunkards.

In an interview, Teresita Demalerio narrated in a mix of Cebuano and Filipino that six armed men emerged from a curve at the corner of their house.

“One person approached our gates, went straight to Fernando who was on his way home, aimed his gun at him while shouting ‘Hapa! Hapa!’ (lie down) My husband raised his two arms and tried to thresh the matter out with the gunman. A second man entered our gate,” Teresita narrated.

Moments later, Teresita witnessed the first gunshot. It felled her son, Ferjun.

April 20 mobilization against killings in Escalante. Photo from Merck Maguddayao

April 20 mobilization against killings in Escalante. Photo from Merck Maguddayao

“Ferjun went out of the gate with his arms raised and uttered ‘Unsa may problema?’ (What’s the problem?) but was unable to finish his question when he was shot on the chest,” she continued.

In a snap, Fernando shoved the gunman who was aiming at him, and ran for cover inside his compound to his house. He was shot on the waist but the wound was miraculously shallow as his belt seemed to have dissipated the impact of the bullet.

Teresita followed her husband and while on her way, she noticed one of the gunmen lying down on the ground, who most probably was accidentally shot by his comrades during their attack, according to her account. She noticed a grenade in the hands of the felled assailant, picked it up, ran inside the house through a backdoor, and handed it to Fernando, who threw the grenade at the three other assailants. They disappeared after the blast.

The couple survived the ordeal, but not their youngest son Ferjun, who was a fresh college graduate with a degree in customs administration. He was felled down by a seemingly emerging gang of vigilantes, who would kill 27 other men in a span of six years leading to the May 2013 elections, which included Teresita’s brother Sergio Villador, who was killed a few months later.

September 21, 2013 Mobilization against killings in Escalante. Photo from Merck Maguddayao

September 21, 2013 Mobilization against killings in Escalante. Photo from Merck Maguddayao

28 felled men in six years, under two consecutive terms of incumbent and newly-elected mayor of Escalante City, Melecio “Beboy” Yap. The common denominator of the killings is that 18 of the felled men, as well as their surviving immediate relatives, were supporters of former mayor Santiago “May-May” Barcelona, whose term expired in 2007 but ran and lost in 2010 and 2013. Ferjun, though not an active supporter of Barcelona—his parents are—was an unfortunate fatality who absorbed a cheap but fatal shot from a trigger-happy gunman. Nine other victims were para-military volunteers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, locally known as Cafgu, who were likewise killed in an organized manner.
Yap has continuously denied responsibility of the killings, repeatedly saying in local news reports that it is mere demolition job against him.

Such bloodbath last occurred in the City last September 20, 1985, when at least 20 farmer-activists were killed allegedly by state agents in a protest rally in commemoration of Martial Law in front of the town hall. It is forever immortalized in history as theEscalante Massacre. However, this seemingly second version of Escalante Massacre did not happen in a single event–the killings were organized and followed a pattern.

Activist Luke Espiritu of the socialist Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM), who documented the killings and
assisted the victims’ families in filing criminal charges against Yap and his alleged henchmen, explained that this constituted “circumstantial evidence” to charge Yap for murder and frustrated
murder before the prosecutor’s office of Escalante.

“There is a pattern to the killings. Most victims were from the camp of Barcelona,” Espiritu said.

“The victims’ family will first receive a warning from an unknown source: Switch allegiance or death,” he continued. “And indeed, the victims followed this pattern of threat followed by actual execution.”

“You think those who killed my son were common village drunkards? They were armed, and most of them attacked in groups. The killing operations seemed to be organized,” he concluded.

From their end, Espiritu assisted four other families in filing multiple murder charges against Yap, retired Army Major Tupas, Angel Sinadjan, Santiago Rapiz, and several John Does.

As the killings escalated, some families of the murdered men and some survivors brought the issue to then Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary Jesse Robredo, who in 2011 created Task Force Escalante, an inter-government effort to investigate the killings and prevent possible killings. During this time, Yap was stripped of his police powers which he strongly opposed, claiming that the DILG’s measure was against his human rights. His allies from the pro-Maoist Bayan Muna even staged a rally in that year in support of Yap, branding Robredo’s order as a violation of Yap’s rights.

Task Force Escalante, though, withered away after Robredo’s untimely death in 2012 as current DILG secretary Mar Roxas seemed to have backpedalled in the investigation of the cases.

“We have sent follow-up letters to Secretary Roxas and even to PNoy (President Benigno Aquino III) but we have not received any action from the national government,” Teresita Damalerio lamented. “It was a far cry from Robredo’s response to our ordeal.”

Hopeless that their appeals for help fell on deaf ears, the victims’ families stumbled upon Bacolod-native Espiritu, who was busy in campaigning for PLM’s electoral bid in Negros Occidental.

“I think we were blessed to meet a man who took us seriously,” Teresita said.

News about the killings infuriated Espiritu as the number was alarming. But what made him angrier was the fact that the DILG and Malacanang seemed to have discontinued Task Force Escalante after the death of its initiator. Worse, he heard a common notion blaming the insurgent New People’s Army as the perpetrators of the killings.

“Many of these killings were dismissed as insurgency-related. Then case closed. This is an excuse not to undertake further investigation,” he lamented.

The new collaboration resulted in the formation of the local human rights formation Save Negros Movement (Save Negros), which held its first rally in front of Escalante City Hall last April 20 attended by at least 8,000 angry citizens of Escalante denouncing the purported atrocities of Yap and his men.

The gathered crowd called for the continuation of the pending investigation of the killings, the quick prosecution of Yap and the other suspects, and placing Escalante under the control of the
Commission on Elections.

“It seemed like People Power,” Espiritu recalled. “The people were angry, they seemed to want to barge in City Hall and take over the city.”

“They want Mayor Yap to answer the allegations, at the very least, air his side. But he didn’t, which made us angrier,” he said.

Despite this seemingly popular discontent against him, Yap won by a comfortable margin on 9,000 votes over Barcelona in the elections a month after the rally.

It seemed to have been a reaffirmation of the Escalante people’s trust to their mayor, but Damalerio begs to differ.

“We believe Barcelona’s machinery was severely weakened by the killings since 2007, so what do you expect? He became politically dead,” Damalerio explained.

Damalerio insists that his family’s support for Barcelona was because the mayor simply addressed their basic demands—agricultural infrastructure, healthcare, school buildings, and scholarship for
their children. This, she believes, was the reason for Barcelona’s erstwhile political success, having served for three terms from 1998 to 2007.

However, she and the victims, she asserts, have gone beyond being supporters of an ex-mayor. Currently the spokesperson of the Save Negros Movement and PLM-Escalante, she believes that the most viable way to end institutionalized violence in Escalante a movement independent from
traditional political rivals in their city.
Thus, she, along with more than a hundred relatives of EJK victims and some survivors, went beyond the human rights alliance Save Negros and joined PLM, as they believed that justice is served not in the courtroom, but through the direct empowerment of the Escalante masses. In a rally to commemorate the 1985 Escalante Massacre last September 21, the now PLM-Escalante chapter mobilized 300 of its members in front of the City Hall, calling for empowerment and direct democracy as the replacement of warlordist rule in the city. Still fearing for their lives, they braved the scorching weather and a possible rain of bullets.

“We still love Mayor May-May, and we are forever indebted to him,” Damalerio said, recalling her days as supporter of the former mayor. “But we victims have to unite as an independent force
in this city. The issue has gone beyond politics for our lives are at stake. The only way for us to move forward is to organize, no longer perceived as simply Barcelona supporters, but as an independent force of the oppressed.”

She still fears for her life and that of her husband and relatives, though.

“Heaven forbid, but when I return to Escalante, I might be a dead woman. Or maybe, one or two more will be killed.”

She concluded her story with these simple words: “Sending Yap to jail is not enough. Real justice is achieved by changing the system. Leave the masses alone to decide on their own fate, to decide on the fate of our beloved city, for we are the builders of this city.”

Six years may have passed since the death of Teresita Damalerio’s son and brother and the death of 27 others, but for the families of the victims of extra-judicial killings in Escalante, the fight has just begun. They continue to knock on the locked gate of justice while literally dodging bullets fired behind them.

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[Featured Story] Political Prisoner Longs for Freedom, The Story of Juanito Itaas (Part 1)- TFDP

Political Prisoner Longs for Freedom, The Story of Juanito Itaas (Part 1)
by Task Force Detainees of the Philippines published this article by TFDP in July 2011. We decided to reshare this article one more time in support of TFDP’s #FREEourDEFENDERS Campaign.

Juanito Itaas source:

Amidst the sound of merrymaking, Juanito Itaas addressed the visitors and his fellow inmates during the Paskuhan sa Kampo at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) last year.  He called on President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to pay attention to the plight of all political prisoners and detainees and act for their immediate release.

After his speech, a calmer Juanito, more fondly known as Nitoy, approached some of the staff of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) to chat.  His zeal was still very evident, but there seemed to be a tinge of sadness in his eyes, which became more evident when he started to speak.  Christmas, after all, is just around the corner, and despite the joy brought about by the visit of relatives and friends during the Paskuhan sa Kampo, the fact remains that for more than two decades already, Nitoy has spent Christmas locked behind the cold bars of his prison cell.

He has been previously recommended for release.  But the wheels of fate did not turn in his favor.


Nitoy is one of the ten children of Mamerto and Fausta Itaas of Barangay Sinuron, Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur.  Nitoy’s family tended root crops, corn and coconut as their primary source of income.  Aside from farming, Nitoy’s father was a part-time pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).

Those who knew Nitoy said that he has a big heart – helping those in need and standing up for the weak.   He also joined mass mobilizations and demanded land for the tillers. When Nitoy was 15 years old, he worked in a shoe factory where he stayed for two years.  After which, he sold tapes, radios and textiles in a mining site in Davao del Sur.  The idea of social justice was not lost in him as he witnessed the injustices experienced by the miners.  For every ten sacks of ore dug by the miners, only three remain with them.  Six went to the owner of the tunnel and one to the military positioned at the entrance.

In 1981, Nitoy became a full time organizer.  The death of his brother, a guerilla fighter, in 1982 all the more pushed him to continue with his involvement.

In 1984, Nitoy met Glenda, who later became his wife, in Tagum, Davao.  In 1986, they got married.  They continued to live in Tagum until one fateful day in 1989.

In the evening of August 27, 1989, Nitoy was with a companion and onboard a jeepney along Lizada Street corner Quezon Boulevard in Davao City, when a vehicle cut across their path.  Several men alighted from the vehicle and declared a hold up.  Nitoy’s companion, later identified in the newspapers as Constabulary 2nd Class Camilo Maglente, suddenly held his arms tight.  Nitoy resisted but there was another vehicle whose passengers pointed their guns at him.  His legs and arms were bound.  He was blindfolded and in a matter of seconds, he was thrown into the back of the van.  He was brought to an unidentified military barracks where he was held for questioning.  The many different questions thrown at him confused Nitoy.

Based on TFDP documents, Nitoy’s military captors under the Philippine Constabulary – Criminal Investigation Service (PC-CIS) and Regional Security Unit (RSU) headed by then Lt. Cesar Mancao were the ones who tortured him.

The next morning, the interrogation continued, but Nitoy did not provide any information.  The interrogators were not able to get any information from Nitoy.  Hence, when his arresting officers, Lt. Mancao and a certain Boy Erno of the RSU failed to get anything from him, he was turned over to two unidentified military men where his agonizing experience began.

Immediately after he was blindfolded, handcuffed at the back, and covered at the mouth with a masking tape, the men dragged him into a vehicle.  Inside, heavy blows reduced Nitoy into a shapeless heap.  His captors also used the “dry submarine”  on Nitoy.  He eventually blacked out.  After he regained consciousness and another round of punches, he admitted everything that was accused of him.  The men stopped hurting him.

Nitoy further related that he lost track of the time.  He was taken to several places and subjected to intense interrogation.  He then remembered that when his blindfold was removed, flash bulbs blinded his strained eyes.  He was presented to the media as the government’s prized catch.

A few minutes later, they went to a local airport and took a Manila-bound flight where he was accompanied by Gen. Ramon Montano, military escorts and a number of media.  That was Nitoy’s first time to go to Manila.  He was then committed at the Camp Crame in Quezon City where he was kept in solitary confinement for one week.

On September 1, 1989, charges of murder and frustrated murder docketed as Criminal Case Numbers Q-89-4843 and Q-89-4844 were filed before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City, Branch 88, for the killing of Col. James Rowe and the serious wounding of his driver, Joaquin Vinuya.  The two cases were filed without preliminary investigation.

On September 8, 1989, Gen. Montano talked to him about his alleged involvement in the Rowe killing.  Nitoy retracted the statements he made in Davao.  He said he was only forced to admit the accusations against him because of the severe pain that was inflicted on him.  Donato Continente, the other suspect in the Rowe killing, failed to identify Nitoy during a brief confrontation.

During the trial, nine witnesses were presented by the prosecution.  But only one, a certain Meriam Zulueta identified Nitoy as the gunman. On cross-examination however, Zulueta admitted that her eyewitness identification was based on a single fleeting glimpse of a stranger during a startling occurrence; and that she did not have an adequate opportunity to observe the gunman’s physical feature since he was in motion when she saw him, and was holding and firing a long firearm, thus preventing her from getting a good look at him.

Aside from the testimony of Zulueta, the only evidence presented against Nitoy was his alleged extra-judicial confession, in which he purportedly admitted that he was part of a New People’s Army (NPA) assassination team responsible for the Rowe killing.  The confession was signed in the presence of a lawyer, a certain Atty. Felimon Corpuz, who later admitted when he testified in court that he was a retired military lawyer and said he was summoned not by Nitoy but by the CIS to “represent” Nitoy.

Atty. Corpuz also revealed that he was not familiar with the rights of the accused when he was unable to enumerate such rights during cross-examination.

Despite the tenuous and unreliable testimony of Zulueta, the absence of a competent and independent counsel when Nitoy allegedly confessed, and Nitoy’s confession which was made under duress, the trial court rendered an unfavorable decision.

On February 27, 1991, Nitoy and his co-accused, Continente, were found guilty by Judge Tirso D. C. Velasco of RTC-Quezon City Branch 88.  They were sentenced to life imprisonment (reclusion perpetua) plus a minimum of ten (10) years and a maximum of 17 years, four months and one day for the frustrated murder.  Both appealed the RTC decision in 1993.

On August 25, 2000, the Supreme Court (G.R. Numbers 100801-02) affirmed the conviction of Nitoy and ruled that he was the lone principal in the killing of Rowe.  Continente’s case was modified to that of an accomplice.  His jail sentence was reduced to a minimum of 12 years to a maximum of 14 years and eight months for the Rowe killing and a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years and four months for the wounding of Vinuya.  Continente therefore had an aggregate sentence of 12 years and six months as minimum and a maximum of 16 years.  After serving his sentence, he was released on June 28, 2005.

On the other hand,  the life sentence of Nitoy was retained for the Rowe killing plus another six years as minimum to nine years and six months as maximum for the Vinuya wounding.

U.S. Army Colonel James Rowe

The United States government took a great interest in the case of Nitoy.  They kept a watchful eye from the time he was arrested to his incarceration and conviction.  And it was not difficult to figure out why.  Nitoy, after all, was accused, and later convicted for the murder of Rowe, considered to be an American hero.

James Nicholas “Nick” Rowe was a graduate of the West Point Military Academy.  He later became a decorated war veteran.  He joined the United States Army’s elite Green Beret Special Force and went to Vietnam in the early 1960s.  He was one of only 34 American Prisoners of War (POWs) to escape captivity during the Vietnam War.  Rowe was assigned as Executive Officer of Detachment A-23, 5th Special Forces Group, a 12-man “A-Team” in Vietnam in 1963.  On October 29, 1963, after only three short months in Vietnam, then Lieutenant Rowe was captured by Viet Cong guerillas, along with Capt. Humberto R. Versace and Sgt. Daniel L. Pitzer.  Separated from his comrades, Lt. Rowe spent 62 months in captivity with only brief encounters with fellow American POWs.  He escaped from his Vietnamese captors on December 31, 1968.  He authored the book, “Five Years to Freedom,” an account of his years as a prisoner of war.

Rowe retired from the United States Army in 1974.  In 1981, he was recalled to active duty to design and build a course based upon his experience as a POW.

“Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape” (SERE) is now a requirement for graduation from the U.S. Army Special Forces Qualification Course.  SERE is taught at the Colonel James “Nick” Rowe Training Compound at Camp Mackall, North Carolina.

He was placed in command of the First Special Warfare Battalion at Fort Bragg in 1985.  In 1987, he was sent to the Philippines.  Rowe was assigned as Chief of the Army Division of the Joint RP – U.S. Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG).  He led a group who trained the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) officers on counter insurgency.  He worked closely with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on a strategy to infiltrate the ranks of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA.

By February 1989, Rowe acquired intelligence information that the communists were planning a major terrorist act.  He warned Washington that a high-profile figure was about to be assassinated and that he himself was second or third on the assassination list.

On April 21, 1989, while Rowe was on his way to the JUSMAG Compound, his car was ambushed at the corner of Tomas Morato Street and Timog Avenue in Quezon City.  Gunmen who were on board an old model Toyota Corolla car suddenly fired at his car.  Rowe was instantly killed while Vinuya, his driver, was seriously wounded.  The two were initially brought to the V. Luna Hospital in Quezon City.  They were later transferred to the Clark Air Base Hospital in Pampanga where Vinuya was confined for four days.  He sustained injuries in the head, shoulder and back portion of his left hand.

Rowe was buried on May 2, 1989 in Section 48 of the Arlington National Cemetery.  Reports said that he was the highest U.S. military officer killed in the Philippines, a feat “that the United States government can hardly stomach.”

Even though the NPA owned up to the assassination, Nitoy and Continente were still arrested.

[to be continued]

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Remember Belen – #rememberML@40 celebrates Mother’s Day by remembering stories of Mothers who fought against Martial Law – women who have given us a vision of potential for human strength and renewal. Those who died leave us their stories of heroism. A repost from #rememberML@40 

“Naging biktima kami ng pangangamkam ng lupa ng mga malalaking asendero; biktima ng manipulasyon sa pautang sa bangko; sa pautang ng abono at pestisidyo; sa gilingan ng tubo pati na ang bilihan ng asukal na mas lalong tumingkad nang nabuoa ang NASUTRA (National Sugar Traiding Authority) – Belen


Source TFDP

Belen is a widow and a mother of two adopted daughters. Back in Negros Oriental, she used to teach home economics in the public elementary school.

Seated on top of her tarima (iron cot) inside the Philippine Contabulary/Integrated National Police jail of Camp Crame, she related her story.

Belen saw and felt how their economic status crumbled at the hands of the big landlords, in Negros. Her father belonged to a middle land owner class, one of the classes in the countryside that fall prey to the monopolistic practices of the big hacienderos.

Her fathers land was reduced from 75 hectares of sugarcane to several hectares of rice and coconut lands. The operations of the sugarcane land were ordered to stop by the monopoly of the big landlords and the land laid idle since then.

Belen’s relatively comfortable life did not blind her to the suffering of the sacada (sugarcane workers) who worked on her father’s farm. She and her husband convinced his old man to the increase the wages of his workers. The act displeased the other landlords that the old man was called to the local precinct for questioning. The pressure from the other landlords made Belen’s father cancel the wage increase but unknown to the others, he added a cavan of rice to his farm workers monthly wages.

Belen’s experience in the economic struggle was transformed into one that had a wider perspective – that of political struggle. In he process of helping the workers, she was caught by the military.

Belen was one of the seven women and seventeen men rounded up by elements of Task Force Makabansa in different parts of Metro Manila from February 26 to March 1, 1982. She was arrested with no warrant of arrest in a raid of a worker’s house in Novaliches. She told the military that she was just a visitor but that did not seem to be a good reason for the military to let her go.

She was made to undergo tactical interrogation at the Metrocom Intelligence Service Group (MISG) Conference Room, Camp Crame for the first 48 hours and later at the Transient Officers’ Quarters, Fort Bonifacio where she was detained with other female detainees. For 10 days, tactical interrogation continued while they were place incommunicado from relatives and friends.

It is not without anger that she recall her torture, both physical and mental. Her life was threatened and made a fair game with Russian roulette. Bullets were inserted in between her fingers and were squeezed tight by her interrogators. The threat of rape and of stripping was ever present. Military men, usually drunk, went in and out of her room and so sleep was not all possible. Tension, exhaustion and anger took its toll. Vomiting, diarrhea, and near-dehydration made Belen demand the service of a doctor. Only then did the interrogation cease.

Finding no remedies for what had been done to Belen her co-accused, a collective torture complaint was filed by them on July 1982 before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The following year, they filed a P6.5 million civil damage suit against Gen. Fabian Ver, Chief of Staff of the Philippine Armed Forces and several others for violation of detainees’ constitutional and human rights. Their lawyers Atty. Joker Arroyo and Rene Saguisag walked out with their families when the judge announced the dismissal of the case for “lack of merit”.

Source: “Filipino Women in Struggle” TFDP

On the 40th Anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, let us push for the ‘Compensation Act’ for all victims
of human rights violations of the Marcoses,

JOIN us in our pledge to remember, inform and inspire the youth with the truth and lessons that our nation learned from this dark period of our history.

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Our youth with the truth and lessons of Martial Law.

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[Featured Story] Political Prisoner Longs for Freedom, The Story of Juanito Itaas (Part 2) –

[Political Prisoner Longs for Freedom, The Story of Juanito Itaas, Part 1 was posted last July 14, 2011. Click here to read the first part of this featured story.]

by Task Force Detainees of the Philippines

Stumbling blocks and pressure from the U.S. government

File photo source:

Nitoy was with his wife Glenda before he was accosted.  When Nitoy still had to go somewhere, Glenda stayed behind.  That night, Nitoy did not come home.  Glenda did not worry since she thought that Nitoy might have had attended to something important.  The next day however, she received information from one of their relatives that according to the news, Nitoy was arrested.  His whereabouts was not mentioned. Glenda did not know what to do.  While she asked help from different people and organizations, she started to lose hope that she will still find her husband.  She prepared herself for the worst – that Nitoy might have been salvaged.

Glenda later learned that Nitoy was brought to Manila, but it was still two months after his arrest when Glenda was able to visit him.  It was the Kapisanan para sa Pagpapalaya ng mga Bilanggong Pulitikal sa Pilipinas (KAPATID) that helped her.  Glenda eventually became a staff of KAPATID in 1991 until 1997.

When Fidel Ramos assumed the presidency in 1992, there seemed to be a ray of hope when his government wanted to talk peace.  The government sent signals to the CPP-NPA-National Democratic Front (NDF).  Efforts to revive the peace talks materialized.  Ramos issued Amnesty Proclamation Nos. 347 and 348.  Republic Act 1700 or the Anti-Subversion Law was repealed. A presidential committee was created to review cases of alleged political offenders and recommend their release, bail or pardon.  This was done through the issuance on August 11, 1992 of “Guidelines for the Grant of Bail, Recognizance or Pardon of Persons Detained or Convicted of Crimes Against National Security, Public Order and Violations on the Articles of War” as part of confidence building measures to promote a climate conducive to peace.

A most significant decision in the early days of the Ramos presidency was the amendment of his amnesty proclamation to include the creation of the National Unification Commission (NUC) in response to the clamor of a growing number of peace advocates for the government to address the concerns of “unpeace” within a larger and participative process.

The NUC was an ad hoc advisory body mandated by Executive Order No. 19 and signed by Ramos on September 1, 1992.  It was tasked to formulate and recommend to the President a viable general amnesty program.

Nitoy filed an application for amnesty under Proclamation No. 347 through which the National Amnesty Commission (NAC) was formed to receive and process applications for amnesty of former rebels.

Writing for the February/March 1995 issue of the U.S. Veteran Dispatch, Ted Sampley said that the U.S. government told the Philippine government on January 25 that “it remains opposed to the release from jail of the convicted killers of Rowe.”  Washington argued that the two “should not be freed under any government amnesty program because they violated international law by killing a diplomat.”

On December 5, 1995, then U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte wrote then NUC Chairperson Manuel C. Herrera to submit the view of the U.S. government on the amnesty application of Nitoy for consideration by the Commission.  The U.S. government registered its “opposition to the grant of amnesty to Juanito Itaas” on the ground that to do so “after the assassin has served only a small fraction of his sentence, would substantially undermine the principles and intent of the IPP Convention.”  The premise of this position is that “as chief of the army branch of the JUSMAG, Col. Rowe had full diplomatic status”.

The IPP Convention refers to the 1973 Convention on Protection and Punishment of Crimes against Internally Protected Persons to which the Philippines acceded to on November 26, 1976.  It entered into force on February 20, 1977.

On August 10, 1995, Mrs. Susan Rowe, Col. Rowe’s widow, submitted a sworn opposition to Nitoy’s application for amnesty.  She contested Nitoy’s qualification to avail of amnesty since he had argued in his appellant’s brief to the Supreme Court that the RTC committed an error in its finding that he was a member of the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB) of the NPA.  Therefore, in not being a member, he could not have committed the crime in furtherance of any political end.  Further, Mrs. Rowe contended that giving amnesty “would be totally inconsistent with his protested innocence”.  She also stated that “it would be more in keeping with orderly procedure that the Supreme Court be allowed to continue with the adjudication of the case.”  Instead of praying for the suspension of Nitoy’s amnesty application proceedings, Mrs. Rowe prayed that the application be denied.

On April 24, 1995, the Local Amnesty Board, seemingly “convinced” by the views of the U.S. government, recommended the denial of amnesty to Nitoy on the ground that “acts of terrorists are not considered political delictum (political crimes) and therefore, “the crime for which the applicant was charged does not fall within the scope of Proclamation No. 347.”

Almost ten months after the Local Amnesty Board’s recommendation, Nitoy submitted his Comment on the Opposition filed by Mrs. Rowe and the U.S. government.  He maintained that he is qualified to be granted amnesty and it would not violate the obligations of the Philippine government under the Convention.  The government had in fact “investigated, arrested, charged, prosecuted, and convicted” Nitoy, who is now serving sentence in prison in connection with the crimes.  Therefore, he had not been given any preferential treatment.

On August 13, 1996, the U.S. government submitted its Rejoinder to said Comment, reiterating that “premature release of Itaas (through an amnesty grant) would run counter to the Convention’s fundamental purpose and objective – i.e., the deterrence of crimes against diplomats through a broad international commitment to punish such crimes in a serious manner.”

In January 2001, the NAC decided on Nitoy’s petition for amnesty.  It ruled that “applicant Juanito T. Itaas is hereby given a QUALIFIED GRANT of amnesty for REBELLION constituted by his membership in the CPP-NPA-NDF, but DENIED as to the killing of Col. James Rowe, which he continuously denied having participated in.”  Nitoy filed a motion for reconsideration before the NAC on January 27, 2001 which was denied in its Resolution dated March 1, 2001.  The Court of Appeals (CA-G.R. No. SP 64575) affirmed the NAC Resolution on September 15, 2003.

Could it have been mere coincidence that around those months, there came out unconfirmed reports that an American official called former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to exclude Nitoy and Continente from the list of political prisoners whom she was planning to grant pardon?  There had also been news reports about the meeting between former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Thomas Hubbard and Arroyo where the former reiterated the same demand from the U.S. government.

The NAC Resolution giving Nitoy amnesty for rebellion but not for the murder of Col. Rowe was, according to Atty. Jose Manuel I. Diokno, Nitoy’s legal counsel, contrary to law and jurisprudence.  His petition stated that “such qualified grant of amnesty separates and distinguishes the killing of Col. Rowe from rebellion, in contravention of the Ponce Enrile  and Hernandez  rulings”.

A couple’s lament

Despite the years of struggle, Nitoy and Glenda tried to remain strong, with each other as their source of strength.  They now have three children – Jarel, 15, Abbie, 8, and John John, 6 – all of whom were conceived during conjugal visits at the NBP.  Since Nitoy has been detained for more than 20 years, not one of their children has experienced having him around.  To make ends meet, Glenda put up a small sari-sari store.  Assistance coming from various human rights organizations also helps.

Glenda herself could not fathom how she manages to sustain their children.  She has thought of working abroad, but she cannot bear being away from her kids and Nitoy.

She firmly believes that the U.S. government has a strong hand in her husband’s fate.  This Christmas, all she wishes for is for Nitoy to be released and for their children to be with him.  She hopes that President Benigno Simeon Aquino III does not give in to U.S. pressure and give more weight to the fact that both Nitoy and he are Filipinos.

On the other hand, it is not very clear to Nitoy whether the U.S. government still has an interest in his case. An anguished Nitoy expressed, “Napakatagal na, ano pa bang gusto nila?  Sobra-sobra na.” (It has been so long, what more do they want?  It has been too much.)


Consistent with diplomatic practice, the statements issued by the U.S. government officials through the years do not explicitly constitute of any threats or sanctions in case the Philippine government indeed decides to grant pardon or executive clemency to Nitoy.

Current U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas, Jr., during an interview, even denied that the U.S. government gets involved in the Philippine judicial system.  According to him, they have not commented [on the issue] nor pressured [anyone].  But they can never excuse what happened to Col. Rowe.

The fact remains that the U.S. government has a great influence to the countries of the world, the Philippines in particular.  Any government will have to think, not only twice, but many times, before it decides to do anything that will displease the U.S. government.

Unfortunately, the Philippine government’s desire to remain in the U.S. government’s good graces has been at the expense of one man and his family.

During the early years of Nitoy’s detention, he wrote a letter to Mrs. Rowe.  He told her that if she wants justice for what happened to Col. Rowe, then they are on the same boat.  He is also crying for justice for himself.  Nitoy shared that it is truly sad that Mrs. Rowe lost her husband.  But there is not much difference between them – one died while he, though alive, continues to suffer for something he did not do.

Nitoy did not receive any reply from Mrs. Rowe.  Though broken and tormented, he remains hopeful that unlike Mrs. Rowe, the new administration will not turn a blind eye on him.

He yearns for the day when he will be wrapped in the warm embrace of his wife and children outside the confines of prison. He longs to breathe the air beyond the cold walls of prison.


Supreme Court, People vs. Continente, Itaas G.R. Nos. 100801-02, August 25, 2000.
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, Philippine Human Rights Update (various issues)
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines Fact Sheet 89-DVC-ARD-006