”[Eduardo] Sarmiento’s conviction, despite glaring evidence to the contrary, may be a sign of government’s bad faith in fulfilling its purported commitment to address the peace situation in the country.” – National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Lawyers and human rights advocates criticized a local court for convicting political prisoner Eduardo Sarmiento for charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Sarmiento’s lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) filed a motion for reconsideration seeking the reversal of the court’s decision. Judge Myra Bayot-Quiambao of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 203 sentenced Sarmiento to 20 to 40 years imprisonment.
Sarmiento, a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) who represented the Eastern Visayas Region in the peace negotiations with the Government of Philippines (GPH), was arrested on February 23, 2009 in Metro Manila.
Sarmiento’s lawyers argued that the court committed serious errors of facts and law in finding Sarmiento guilty of violating Presidential Decree 1866 despite the failure of the prosecution to prove the offense charged beyond reasonable doubt, failure of the prosecution to establish the chain of custody of the fragmented grenade, and blindly relying on the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties over the constitutional right of the accused to be presumed innocent.
The NUPL and PILC also filed second motion for inhibition against Bayot-Quiambao, raising questions on the judge’s impartiality.
Bayot-Quiambao served as Senior State Prosecutor from 2002 to 2009, and was included in the GPH team created by then Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera tasked to look into the cases of consultants to the peace process.
Thus, “having participated in some discussions on the consultants’ cases in the peace process and having taken the position of the government, the presiding judge should have inhibited herself when she was asked for the first time to recuse herself in hearing the case,” the counsels argued.
The motion further stated, “The manifest bias of the presiding judge in favor of the prosecution during hearing for the case left the accused in serious doubt as to her impartiality in rendering a just ruling.”
The NUPL said that Sarmiento, being a Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) holder, is supposedly protected from arrest and detention or persecution to be able to perform his duties in the peace process.
In a phone interview, NUPL secretary-general Edre U. Olalia said that in the hearing this morning, Bayot-Quiambao said she will file a comment to the motion within 15 days. “There is no indication whether she will inhibit or not,” Olalia said.
“The growing number of NDFP consultants who are being arrested and detained on the basis of trumped-up charges is a clear barometer that the GPH lacks the sincerity to implement and even respect the bilateral agreements it committed in the peace negotiations like the 1995 Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees. He and many other consultants are supposed to be protected and should not have been arrested at all in the first place, let alone slapped with contrived charges,” Olalia said.“Sarmiento’s conviction, despite glaring evidence to the contrary, may be a sign of government’s bad faith in fulfilling its purported commitment to address the peace situation in the country. In the concrete, with such illegal, unfair, and unjust arrests, detention, and conviction of peace consultants – most of whom were tortured – how can we expect to encourage well-meaning people to volunteer and come forward to help in the peace process?”Olalia added.
Two other charges against Sarmiento – use of fictitious name and arson—have been dismissed for lack of evidence.
In a separate statement, human rights group Karapatan, said the recent conviction of Sarmiento is another blow impeding the peace process between the two parties and a clear indication of the Aquino government’s insincerity to resume the peace talks.
“The Aquino administration through the OPAPP [Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process] is mocking the peace negotiations by not respecting and rendering inoperative the agreements such as The Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL)—agreements painstakingly forged throughout the years,” Karapatan said. The JASIG provides protection for NDFP peace consultants and staffs against arrest, detention and other forms of harassment.
“For Karapatan, the case of Eduardo Sarmiento illustrates the injustices being suffered by all political prisoners in the country—rights violations which are being perpetuated by the Benigno S. Aquino administration through its counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said.