After days of intense media scrutiny, 72-year-old driver Elmer Cordero was freed last night from his jail cell in Caloocan City, a week after he was arrested for protesting against the government’s decision to ban jeepneys in Metro Manila while it is under partial lockdown.
Judge Gloria Santos of the Caloocan City Metropolitan Court Branch 51 ordered the police to release Cordero after a Php10,000 (US$200) was posted by the elderly driver. Prior to his release, Cordero expressed fears that he will catch COVID-19 in the city’s crowded detention center and even told cops he would have preferred to be tied to a tree.
Cordero was just one of a group of protestors, called the Piston 6, who was arrested by police for joining a mass gathering last week. The authorities alleged that the group resisted arrest and did not follow social distancing rules, an allegation denied by the drivers.
Four of the protestors were set free after bail was posted for them on Monday but Cordero had to remain behind bars after an old fraud case filed against him resurfaced.
Caloocan police refused to free the elderly driver even for humanitarian reasons, a decision supported by Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, who insisted that Cordero face his charges despite his old age. Some critics pointed out that this was inconsistent with the Philippine National Police’s actions in 2018 when it expressed hesitance to arrest former First Lady Imelda Marcos, who was found guilty of graft, because the authorities said she was already too old.
Aside from him, Cordero’s fellow protestor and jeepney driver Wilson Ramilla was held back because of an old carnapping case, which he said he already served jail time for but has yet to be dismissed. He was also freed last night along with Cordero.
Countless jeepney drivers have been left unemployed and hungry since a quarantine was imposed in the Philippines in mid-March to stem the spread of COVID-19. While the lockdown has been eased, jeepneys are still banned in Metro Manila because the government insists it’s hard to implement social distancing rules within such vehicles. Desperate for cash to support their families, drivers are often seen on the city’s roads begging for alms.
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