A regional trial court in Cebu dismissed for “utter lack of probable cause” trumped-up charges filed by the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) and the Philippine Army’s 78th Infantry Battalion against 27 activists and four other individuals.
BY KAREN PAPELLERO
Vol. VII, No. 29, August 26-September 1, 2007
CEBU CITY – A regional trial court in Cebu dismissed for “utter lack of probable cause” trumped-up charges filed by the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) and the Philippine Army’s 78th Infantry Battalion against 27 activists and four other individuals.
In a four-page order issued on July 12, 2007, Executive Judge Ceasar Estrera of Regional Trial Court VII-Branch 29 in Toledo City also quashed the charge sheet after finding a total lack of basis to hold the activists for trial on allegations of murder.
The complaint was filed by the ISAFP and the Army’s 78th IB on April19, 2006 before the prosecutor’s office. It accuses the activists of being members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who ambushed a section of “C” Coy-78th IB in Tabuelan town in March that same year.
The court however questioned the logic of the allegation, saying: “It stands to reason that what had happened was a “legitimate” encounter which, being such, no one can be held answerable for no one can be wrong on the side of right (legitimate). It may even be said that even if the gun battle with insurgents was not lawful (or legitimate), still the latter could not be held liable for the resulting deaths by virtue of its being an “encounter.”
Vimarie Arcilla, coordinator of Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights)-Cebu North Area and one of the respondents in the said case, lauded its dismissal saying anybody can see it as pure harassment designed to justify more attacks against human rights workers and advocates under the so-called legal offensive of the government’s Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Freedom Watch) I and II.
Among the activists named in the dismissed case were Emmylou Buñi-Cruz, staff of Karapatan-Central Visayas; Preciosa Daño, coordinator of the party-list group Bayan Muna (People First); Beethoven Avila, coordinator of Kabataan (Youth) Party-List and organizers and officers of local formations of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Philippine Peasant Movement)-Cebu.
Buñi-Cruz was a victim of a failed assassination attempt allegedly perpetrated by military elements in the town of Tuburan in December 2005; while Daño and Avila were abducted recently before the May 2007 elections by suspected military intelligence personnel in the region. Daño and Avila were released after two days of interrogation. Their cases are still pending for investigation in the Commission on Human Rights (CHR)-Region VII.
Small victories in the face of greater challenges
“Kining pag-dismiss sa among kaso nagpamatuod lang nga walay laing grupo o institusyon, kung dili ang gobyerno pinaagi sa berdugong AFP, ang adunay kapasidad ug kapasikaran nga mobuhat og mga pagpanglapas sa tawhanong katungod aron lamang mapukan ang pakigbisog sa katawhan ilawom sa ilehitimong gobyerno ni Arroyo. Ug wala kami ilusyon nga mohunong kaning pagpanggukod, ligal o extra-legal man, sa mga progresibo nga mga grupo hilabina ilawom sa balaod sa Human Security Act” (The dismissal of our case only shows that there is no other group or institution, other than the government through the butcher-mentality of the AFP, which has the capacity and the reason to commit human rights violations in order to defeat the people’s struggle under the illegitimate Arroyo government. And we do not have any illusions that these persecutions against progressive groups, through legal or extra-legal means, will cease, especially under the Human Security Act [HSA]), Daño explained.