By RONALYN OLEA
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has submitted her review and recommendations on the case of the Morong 43 to President Benigno S. Aquino III since the second week of October.
The 43 health workers, now known as the Morong 43, were arrested by combined elements of the police and military on Feb. 6 in Morong, Rizal. Slapped with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, the 43 were tagged as members of the New People’s Army.
While De Lima has kept mum about the content of the review and the specific recommendations, relatives of the Morong 43 are confident that De Lima is on their side given her track record as former chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
It is worth reviewing De Lima’s statements regarding the case.
In a meeting with a delegation of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) on Sept. 15, De Lima said: “I know the violations. I know how defective the arrest was. I know that the warrant [of arrest] was patently defective on its face.”
The search warrant used for the Feb. 6 raid was issued against a certain Mario Condes who was not among the 43 arrested and who had never been found. During one of the hearings conducted by the CHR, police and military officers admitted they did not pursue the search for Condes.
The IADL has taken the case of the Morong 43 as one of their international campaigns. Some of its officers sought an audience with De Lima during their visit in Manila.
The CHR then chaired by De Lima conducted hearings based on the complaint of human rights violations filed by the Morong 43 against the police and military. The Morong 43 filed charges of illegal arrest, illegal detention, torture, incommunicado detention, violation of the right to legal counsel, among others.
In the first hearing on March 18, Col. Aurelio Balabad, commander of the 202nd Infantry Brigade, told the CHR that the Feb. 6 raid was based on an intelligence report about the presence of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the area.
De Lima reacted: “There is ambiguity here. The search warrant is against Mario Condes and you were talking about NPA rebels.”
De Lima asked the military respondents if they conducted direct investigation or follow up operations on Mario Condes, the military officers admitted they did not. When asked by De Lima why they did not do so even if Condes was supposedly the subject of the warrant, one of the officers answered: “I presumed we got the name wrong but arrested the right persons.”
In the April 23 hearing, De Lima asked Senior Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Severino Gaña Jr. why he approved the resolution to file the charges against the Morong 43 despite the obvious defects in the search warrant such as the incomplete address indicated. State Prosecutor Romeo Senson conducted the inquest proceedings on the Morong 43 at Camp Capinpin on Feb. 7 and wrote the said resolution.
“Law students will be able to determine the defects in the search warrant. The inquest prosecutor must know about that and must not recommend the filing of information,” De Lima said.
Vocal against Military Detention
De Lima was also vocal against the military detention of the Morong 43. The health workers were detained at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal for almost three months.
In a statement dated April 10, De Lima said: “There is no legal basis for their continued detention in a military camp, nor is there legal basis for the PNP to refuse to take them into custody. In fact, the law requires the PNP to take them into custody. It’s not optional for the PNP to say they can take suspects in or not. The PNP has the duty to receive these detainees, and if it must make temporary arrangements while working on more permanent accommodations, then it must do so.
On April 7, the Morong court issued an order transferring the political prisoners from Camp Capinpin to the PNP facility in Camp Crame. It was not implemented by the Camp Capinpin authorities on April 8, citing reasons of lack of buses or escorts. The PNP then filed its own motion to the Morong court in the afternoon of April 8, saying that they do not have facilities to accommodate the Morong 43 political prisoners.
“Is the PNP saying that it does not have the room or the manpower to ensure the proper detention of a few dozen suspects who have not been proven to be violent?” asked De Lima. “If so, then the top government leaders must ensure that the necessary resources should be immediately mobilized so that law enforcers can do their jobs effectively.”
The transfer of the Morong 43 to a civilian detention facility has been delayed twice. De Lima said the lack of coordination that reportedly blocked the recent attempt of the AFP to transfer the group from the Army’s Camp Capinpin in Rizal province to the PNP’s main facility, Camp Crame, was “far short of the obligations demanded by law from both the AFP and the PNP in terms of criminal procedure and human rights respect.”
De Lima further said: “These two institutions are demonstrating a serious deficiency of coordination, as eloquently demonstrated by the delivery of 38 of the Morong 43 to Camp Crame, only to have them promptly rejected by the PNP and returned to the military facility of Camp Capinpin. Excuses have been given by both institutions for this failed hand over, and attempts are being made by each party to evade responsibility, but at the end of the day the sad fact is that it is the detainees who will continue to suffer. It is their rights which will continue to be placed in jeopardy, as they remain locked up in a military camp, instead of a civilian detention facility.”
“We have noticed that the PNP and AFP have each been passing responsibility, not just for the detention, but also for all operations concerning the Morong 43, on to the other,” added De Lima. “With both institutions singing different tunes, we are perplexed as to which one of them is really behind this entire muddle.”
Thirty-eight of the 43 health workers were transferred to Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City only on May 1. Five have remained under military custody.
De Lima stood by the mandate of the CHR even when challenged by the military and State Prosecutor Senson.
The AFP filed a petition before the Court of Appeals to stop the CHR from conducting its hearings on the complaint claiming that the CHR has no jurisdiction to proceed with the case, citing the subjudice rule. The rule states that when a legal matter or controversy is under the jurisdiction of a court (subjudice), nobody, including the press should interfere by publishing statements or commentaries regarding the court’s handling of the proceedings.
“The CHR will not renege on its mandate under the Constitution. You have been testing our patience,” de Lima said.
The CA granted the petition filed by Senson. The AFP’s petition, however, was not acted upon. (Bulatlat.com)