Charges vs. 72 Southern Tagalog Activists Baseless – Lawyer

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One of the lawyers of the 72 activists charged with murder in relation to an ambush incident in Mindoro Oriental said the accusations are baseless.

BY RONALYN V. OLEA
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Bulatlat

One of the lawyers of the 72 activists charged with murder in relation to an ambush incident in Mindoro Oriental said the accusations are baseless.

Lawyer Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) said in a press conference in Quezon City, Nov. 15, that public prosecutors violated due process when they filed multiple murder and frustrated multiple murder charges, and issued warrants of arrest against 72 activists in Southern Tagalog.

The charges are in connection with a raid by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Calapan City, Mindoro Oriental in March 2006.

Of the 72 activists, six have already been arrested and detained at the Calapan City District Jail. They are Remigio Saladero Jr., chief legal counsel of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement); Rogelio Galit, spokesperson of Katipunan ng mga Magbubukid sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-Ka or Association of Farmers in Cavite), Nestor San Jose, local leader of the transport sector; Crispin Zapanta, member of Bayan Muna (People First); Arnaldo Seminiano, organizer of the Ilaw-Buklod ng Manggagawa (IBM); and, Emmanuel Dionida, executive director of labor institute LEADERS.

Pastores said that the original information filed by two officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on July 24, 2006 named only one respondent Rustum Simbulan and several John Does. She said the two policemen did not identify the John Does.

By May 2006, Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Dorina Joya decided to put the complaint on archive pending the arrest of Simbulan, said Pastores.

One year and four months after, Pastores said, Prosecutor Jumilito Dolor suddenly filed an amended information on the case, naming as respondents the 72 activists.

“The amended information in itself is highly irregular,” Pastores said. The prosecutor, she said, relied only on the affidavit of Vincent Silva who claimed to be a deep penetration agent (DPA) involved in the NPA ambush.

Pastores said further that Silva’s testimony is highly questionable. She said it is considered as extrajudicial confession because Silva did not swear before a lawyer, rendering his testimony invalid and inadmissible.

The legal counsel added that Silva did not say anything about the alleged participation of the 72 activists in the said ambush.

Pastores said further that the policemen who filed the original complaint alleged in their affidavits that more than 15 armed men ambushed the police station in Calapan, Mindoro Oriental. “How come they charged 72 individuals?” asked Pastores.

Pastores also said that the public prosecutor did not conduct any hearing, did not issue a subpoena to the respondents and did not conduct a preliminary investigation on the case.

In fact, Pastores said, there was no motion to revive the case after it was put on archive in May 2007.

Without a single hearing, Judge Tomas Leynes accepted the amended information and issued warrants of arrest against the 72 individuals. “Under the rules, the judge should first inform the accused. The respondents only knew about the case when they were already being arrested,” said Pastores.

“The judge did not even bother to check if there was probable cause and if the accused are informed about the case,” said Pastores.

“There is not an iota of evidence to grant the amended information and issue warrants of arrest against the accused,” said Pastores.

Political persecution

Pastores said they are confident that the charges would be dismissed if the merits of the case would be taken into consideration.

However, if this is another case of political persecution, Pastores said, there would be no respect for the rule of law and no respect for due process.

Maricel, wife of Saladero, said she believes the charges against his husband are politically-motivated.

“My husband has chosen to serve the workers; this is the reason why he is implicated in these cases.”

Saladero, along 26 others, was also charged with arson, conspiracy to commit rebellion and destruction of property in connection with the burning down of a Globe cell site in Lemery, Batangas.

“We will exhaust all the possible remedies available to us and [at the same time], expose the filing of fabricated charges as part of the government’s counter-insurgency campaign,” said Pastores. “This is a threat to civil liberties, especially against the vocal critics of the government.

Maricel said, “This is not only against the 72 accused, this is against the Filipino people in general. If they want to file fabricated charges against anyone, they could do so.”

Glendhyl Malabanan, spokesperson of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog said most of the accused are regional and provincial leaders and members of organizations allied with Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan-New Patriotic Alliance)-Southern Tagalog.

In a video, Arman Albarillo, secretary general of Bayan-ST and one of the accused, said he was surprised to know about the charges filed against them.

Albarillo was among the complainants to the latest impeachment case filed against Mrs. Gloria Macpagal-Arroyo. Both his parents were victims of extrajudicial killings in 2002.

Albarillo said, “The objective is to silence and to threaten leaders of people’s organizations.”

He said further, “After the government failed to silence the people in Southern Tagalog through extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, it now resorts to filing of trumped-up criminal charges.”

Not new

Pastores said the filing of false charges against activists is not new.

She recalled the rebellion charges against the Batasan 6, party list representatives of Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) and the murder charges filed against Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo, Raffy Baylosis and Randall Echanis in connection with an alleged mass grave in Hilongos, Leyte.

Eleanor de Guzman of Bayan said the tactic of producing false witnesses giving false testimonies for false charges is the handiwork of Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG).

De Guzman added that the case against the 72 activists in Southern Tagalog could be a pilot project. “Later, they could do the same in other regions.”

Appeal

Albarillo called on the Filipino people to frustrate Arroyo’s ‘evil plans.’

He said that Arroyo is the one who should be held accountable for her ‘crimes against the people.’

“We are not at all cowed by these threats…We know we are on the right side. The Filipino people will continue to fight this oppressive regime,” said Albarillo.

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