Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos in the central Philippines appealed to the government for the release of a 75-year-old woman prisoner and her son.
“In our Diocese of San Carlos, there is a family whose situation has been in my heart for quite some time now,” said the prelate in a statement on January 22.
He was referring to Moreta Alegre and her son, Selman, who were accused of murder and have been behind bars for 16 years.
Moreta is the wife of Jesus Alegre, a prisoner who died on June 13, 2021, of cardiac arrest.
The prelate said Moreta should be released because of her “advanced age and physical ailments, including hypertensive cardiovascular disease.”
Bishop Alminaza said the Alegres are active members of the diocese’s basic ecclesial community who led “a simple life, fishing and selling copra and tuba (native wine) as the produce of their toil.”
“This poor family has been separated for so long, as Jesus, Moreta, and Salem were detained in Manila jails while the rest of the family remained in Negros (province),” said the bishop.
Kapatid, an organization of relatives and friends of political prisoners, said the Alegres were wrongfully accused of killing Rogelio Tipon, a bodyguard of a landlord in the city of Sagay.
In 1994, the family was involved in a land dispute after the landlord allegedly encroached on the Alegre land to build a resort.
On September 8, 1994, Romeo, one of the seven children of Jesus and Moreta, was killed by unidentified gunmen.
The three Alegres were arrested on April 14, 2005, and were convicted for “a trumped-up murder charge to drive them away from the small plot of land he tilled,” said Kapatid.
“When the landlord insisted to displace them from their 15 hectare farm, their efforts to secure papers that the land was theirs turned futile,” said Bishop Alminaza.
Fides Lim, spokesperson of Kapatid, said the Alegres were convicted even as a witness “filed an oath of omission that effectively revoked the Alegres’ involvement.”
Bishop Alminaza said his prayer is for the Alegres to be “expediently granted release.”
The bishop said he is still holding on to hope that the country’s justice system “works and cares for those who have less in life.”
“Deeper reflection on the Alegre family’s distress — as someone sought to grab their farm and displace them from their land and livelihoods — only illuminates the turmoil of those fateful days,” said Bishop Alminaza.