She is free now, but former political detainee Rosanna “Sharon” Cabusao has a lot to say about life in prison.
Cabusao shared her harrowing experience in the female dormitories at the Taguig City Jail, during a press briefing with women’s group Gabriela at the Quezon Memorial Circle Thursday, a day after her release from prison.
For a whole year, the writer and women’s rights activist managed to sleep, write, and wait for justice with more than 46 women cramped in a cell that can only fit two regular-sized beds. The Taguig City Jail Female Dorm housed 176 prisoners into four cells.
“Nagbibiruan nga kami minsan, kapag nakaupo doon sa labas ng selda para kang naghihintay ng train sa MRT kasi siksikan,” she said.
This condition in prisons barely meets the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners adopted by the United Nations, which requires prisoners to be given a separate clean bed, with beddings changed often to ensure cleanliness. Prisoners must also be properly served food of nutritional value during the meal hours of the day.
But on most days, meal times meant a bowl with only a few spoonfuls for every person, Cabusao recounted.
Prisoners are only given P50 for their daily food allowance by the Bureau of Corrections. This budget is divided into P10 for breakfast, P20 for lunch, and P20 for dinner. In her dormitory, Cabusao said this budget for every detainee is still reduced, because cooking and maintenance fees need to be shouldered by the detainees themselves.
According to human rights group Karapatan, most detainees around the country are, “served with a cup of rice porridge for breakfast, a cup full of water boiled with squash or sayote and a few pieces of leaves or half a small can of sardines for lunch, and an egg or small fish and a cup of rice for dinner.”
Cabusao even feels lucky because her colleagues frequently visit her and give her food, which she generously shares to other female prisoners.
Gabriela National Alliance Vice Chairperson Gert Ranjo-Libang said out of 541 political prisoners, 47 are women.
Cabusao was arrested on June 1, 2015 for illegal possession of firearms with her husband Adelberto Silva and driver Isidro de Lima, after members of the Philippine Army forcibly entered and searched their house and allegedly found explosives that the accused said were planted.
“Nandoon na sila sa loob ng bahay, naglalabas-masok sila doon sa mga kwarto. Doon na lang naming nakita yung mga sinasabi nilang mga rocket. Akala ko flashlight kasi hindi ako familiar sa hitsura ng mga granada,” she recounted.
On June 2, 2016, the Bacoor Regional Trial Court Branch 19 ruled in favor of the accused and granted their motion to quash evidence because the search and seizure operation was “unreasonable” and not covered by a warrant. The evidence allegedly found on the three, which the court called the “proverbial fruit of the poisonous tree,” was deemed inadmissible.
Silva, a labor consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), is still detained even if he is covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees or JASIG, a key agreement between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and NDFP that protects their members from arrest, search, surveillance and other punitive actions.
Even while in prison, Cabusao did not stop from asserting her rights and that of hundreds of other political prisoners enduring the same conditions.
According to Karapatan’s latest report, 287 of political prisoners were arrested during Pres. Benigno Aquino III’s administration, while the rest of the 541 have been detained for more than six years.
Because of the resumption of peace talks between the NDFP and the GPH under incoming president Rodrigo Duterte, Cabusao’s hopes that her husband will be released soon have been renewed.
The joint GPH-NDFP agreement during the preliminary talks in Oslo states that the GPH Panel will formally request Duterte to immediately release NDFP consultants to allow them to participate in the peace talks, as well release other political prisoners for humanitarian reasons. Both panels also agreed to work on an amnesty agreement for all political prisoners.
Even while the prison release gave her back her personal liberty, Cabusao says that she has an even greater freedom to pursue. “I will continue to work towards the release of my husband and all political prisoners. And of course, I will continue my work in Gabriela,” she said.