By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo urged a local court in Quezon City to dismiss the civil suit filed against her and several of her military officials for human rights violations committed against church workers.
In June 2011, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) sued Arroyo for damages for the killing of 18 of its pastors and lay leaders, torture and detention of four of its members, among other human rights abuses.
Arroyo, through her lead counsel Jose Flaminiano, filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing several grounds. In a decision dated January 16, 2012, Judge Tita Marilyn Payoyo-Villordon of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 224 junked Arroyo’s petition, saying that “a judicious scrutiny of the entire complaint as well as the annexes only reveals that there appears to have been a violation of the complainants’s constitutional rights which may or may not sustain Arroyo’s civil liability after the proper determination of the veracity of said defendant’s acts or omission in this regard.”
Arroyo filed a motion for reconsideration to the court’s decision. On June 13, the court held its first hearing on the case as it heard the oral arguments of both parties.
Arroyo’s camp insisted that their allegations are vague and not factual. Flaminiano argued that the UCCP allegations are “mere conclusions and should therefore be ignored and dismissed.”
In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Emilio Capulong Jr., lawyer of the UCCP, said: “Their allegations are baseless. What we said in our complaint was very factual. Nobody can dispute that Arroyo, as then commander-in-chief, was in charge of the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and that she had personal knowledge of the Oplan Bantay Laya.”
Capulong said that under Oplan Bantay Laya, human rights violations were committed against the perceived enemies of the state. The UCCP was among the many organizations publicly branded by the AFP as fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Karapatan has documented 1,206 cases of extrajudicial killings, 206 victims of enforced disappearances, and 2,059 cases of illegal arrests and detention during the nine-year rule of Arroyo.
In her motion to dismiss, Arroyo said that the complaint “is a suit against the state because the said complaint is a protest against the government’s implementation of its national security plan and that any act or omission on the part of the defendant [Arroyo] in the performance of her official duties as president and commander-in-chief is an official duty.”
Citing Article 32 of the Civil Code of the Philippines, Capulong said Arroyo should be held liable for violating the right and civil liberties of the Church workers.
The same provision states that “whether or not the defendant’s act or omission constitutes a criminal offense, the aggrieved party has a right to commence an entirely separate and distinct civil action for damages, and for other relief. Such civil action shall proceed independently of any criminal prosecution (if the latter be instituted), and mat be proved by a preponderance of evidence.”
Capulong’s brother, Noel, was among the UCCP lay leaders killed during the Arroyo administration.
Shortly after the hearing, Capulong told UCCP leaders and members: “It is clear that we have the upper hand because we are fighting for justice. We stand by the principle that Arroyo, as commander-in-chief of the AFP, must be held liable.”
UCCP members from Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog joined the relatives of the complainants in a prayer action outside the Quezon City Hall of Justice.
“Arroyo’s lawyer said that if the court would not dismiss the case, what would happen to the succeeding presidents. All the more we should win this case so that the succeeding presidents would not violate human rights,” UCCP Bishop Arthur Asi said.
Asi said that under Aquino, two UCCP leaders have already been victims of extrajudicial killings – Jimmy Liguyon and Rabenio Sungit.
“Our faith compels us to speak out and denounce the climate of impunity that prevails in our nation…The courts must dare to hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable and stop these heinous crimes. We are speaking out to do our part and we pray that the courts will render justice in response to our efforts,” Asi said.
Fifteen days were given for each party to file their respective memorandum before the court will issue it resolution on Arroyo’s motion for reconsideration.
Asi said they are hoping that Judge Villordon would be firm in her decision.
Jopet Domingo, son of slain UCCP pastor Raul Domingo, thanked all the supporters.
“We know that this battle is difficult but I know we will triumph with the help of those like you who yearn for justice,” Jopet said.
Arroyo, now representative of Pampanga’s second district, is under hospital arrest for charges of electoral sabotage. The Aquino administration has not initiated any case against Arroyo for human right violations.