By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Lyn, wife of Edwin Dematera, was among the relatives of the Morong 43 who patiently and eagerly waited for the release of their loved ones. While most of the relatives shed tears of joy upon the release on Friday evening, Lyn cried because of frustration and sadness. Edwin is among the five who have been left behind at the prison cell in Camp Bagong Diwa.
While 33 of the Morong 43 have been released, 10 of them remain in detention. At around 11:05 p.m. last night, 23 female detainees in Camp Bagong Diwa, including the two mothers who had given birth during detention, were released.
More than two hours later, only 10 of the male detainees were reunited with their loved ones. Five men have remained inside the Metro Manila District Jail in Camp Bagong Diwa and an additional five others – three women and two men — are under military custody at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal.
The 43 health workers were arrested on Feb. 6 in Morong, Rizal They were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives and were branded as members of the New People’s Army (NPA), armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Pressured by the overwhelming local and international campaign for the release of the Morong 43, President Benigno S. Aquino III ordered on Dec. 10 the withdrawal of charges against the 43 health workers. Seven days later, on Dec. 17, the Regional Trial Court Branch 78 and the Morong Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC) both issued release orders for all the health workers.
However, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued yesterday morning a list of alleged warrants of arrest for six of the 15 male detainees. Edre Olalia, one of the lawyers of the Morong 43 and secretary-general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), said the DOJ list is based on military information.
Olalia said that the release of the five male detainees has been withheld despite absence of valid reasons for doing so. He explained that a detainee who has been ordered released could only be withheld if there is a warrant of arrest or commitment order against him or her. A commitment order refers to an order designating an arrested person to a particular detention facility.
“None has been produced during the past 10 months and during the trial. The government has not shown any valid documents to withhold their release until 2 a.m. this morning,” Olalia told Bulatlat.com. “The burden is on the state to prove that there are valid warrants of arrest or commitment orders.”
Olalia said that the five remained in jail because of what he calls “spurious old cases and incredulous charges.” The five are Rogelio Villarisis, Edwin Dematera, Antonio de Dios, Adrin Garcia and Danny Pinero.
One of the male detainees, Ramon dela Cruz, was initially among the list; he was let go upon the assertion of the defense counsels. Olalia said the case filed against dela Cruz — violation of the anti-bouncing check law — was dismissed in 1999 and the accused was only 11 years old when the case was dismissed.
“These are ridiculous cases,” said Olalia, stating that the five were charged with drug dependency, rape and violation of the anti-bouncing check law.
Olalia said that the cases are very old, as early as 1999 and as late as 2003, “which is still very far back,” he added.
“It took them more than 10 months before the government says that there are outstanding charges against them. They had enough time,” Olalia bewailed.
Moreover, most of the names in the military’s list are very common names ascribed to the five, Olalia said. He said that the military insists that three of detainees used aliases such as Eulogio Castillo, Edwin Bustamante and Mario delos Santos. “This is sloppy and irresponsible work to ascribe the same names to our clients,” he said.
Olalia also pointed out that most of the charges were filed in Metro Manila when the accused are community health workers based in the provinces.
Military Custody, Illegal
Olalia said that the military custody of the other five detainees is “illegal from the start.”
Olalia said the five should have been placed in a civilian detention facility. After their arrest, the 43 health workers were held under military captivity in Camp Capinpin, headquarters of the 2nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army. For almost three months, the detainees decried physical and psychological torture from the hands of the military.
On May 1, 38 of the Morong 43 were transferred to a regular detention facility in Camp Bagong Diwa. The five were separated from the rest and have stayed at Camp Capinpin.
They are Eleanor Carandang, Valentino Paulino, Chenilyn Tawagon, Jennilyn Pizarro and John Mark Barrientos. The military claims that the five admitted that they are communist rebels but their relatives insist that they are being held under duress.
Olalia said that examination of the circumstances of the continued military detention of the five points to the reasonable conclusion that they are being held against their will. Again, Olalia asserted that the five could be held only if there is a valid warrant of arrest or commitment order against them.