Lawyers of the Tiamzon couple asked the court, presided by Judge Madonna Echiverri, to give them five days to study the records and the evidence so they could appraise their clients about the charges being filed against them, but the court proceeded with the arraignment.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention were filed against alleged top communist leaders Wilma Austria and Benito Tiamzon.
The Tiamzon couple refused to enter a plea for the alleged incidents in 1988 before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 81 this morning.
Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), one of the lawyers for the Tiamzon couple, said their clients did not enter any plea because they did not know anything about the charges filed against them.
“They [Tiamzon couple] said they are not kidnappers,” Pastores said.
As police and military accosted the couple to the courtroom, Austria told the media in Filipino, “We would prove in all courts that we did not commit any of those crimes.”
After the arraignment, Tiamzon, while being taken to the police vehicle, said in Filipino, “We are revolutionaries, not criminals.”
Asked about the details of the case, Pastores said they have yet to yet to look at the documents in seven volumes. She said the cases refer to two alleged incidents in 1988, one in Tiaong, Quezon and another in Mauban, Quezon. She said the cases originated from a local court in Lucena City but they have yet to find out how the cases have been transferred to Quezon City.
Pastores added that they just learned of the schedule of arraignment yesterday. “If our clients had not informed us, we would not have known. “
Pastores said they asked the court, presided by Judge Madonna Echiverri, to give them five days to study the records and the evidence so they could appraise their clients about the charges being filed against them. “Unfortunately, the court did not grant our request. The arraignment proceeded but the Tiamzons did not enter any plea because they are not aware of the case.”
“We have yet to look at the documents and study whatever remedies we could avail of,” Pastores said.
Layers upon layers of charges
Pastores said almost all the cases involving the military are leveled against the Tiamzon couple.
The Tiamzons are also implicated in the Hilongos multiple murder case in relation to an alleged mass grave found in Inopacan, Leyte and illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Pastores said there is also a case in Northern Samar but the lawyers have yet to get records about the case.
Former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, who is a co-accused in the Hilongos case, said, “It seems there is pressure on the judiciary from above. What the lawyers were asking the court was very reasonable. They have not seen the documents and yet, the court went on with the arraignment.”
Ocampo decried the criminalization of political offenses. “Criminal charges are filed to hide the political nature of the case,” Ocampo said, adding that this is a violation of the Hernandez political doctrine upheld by the Supreme Court several times.
Ocampo said he was also charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention under then president Corazon Aquino before a Quezon City trial court. The charges, he said, were dismissed. “We would not accept to be called criminals,” he said.
Asked about the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig), Pastores said the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) continues to reiterate that the Tiamzon couple is covered by Jasig.
The Government of the Philippines (GPH) claimed that Jasig is inoperative but the NDFP, citing provisions in Jasig, maintained that Jasig is still in effect until either party issues a formal notice of termination.
“It [Jasig] is very important for peace negotiations to continue. If all consultants would be charged and arrested, no one would participate in the peace negotiations,” Pastores said.
Echiverri set the pre-trial on May 19 and trial hearings on May 20, May 26 and May 27.
The Tiamzon couple and five others were arrested March 22 in Carcar, Cebu.
Earlier, their lawyers raised irregularities in their arrest and detention. The PILC and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said there was no warrant of arrest shown and the inquest proceedings took place 44 hours after the arrest, way beyond the maximum 36 hours of legal detention without charges being filed.