The Quezon City Regional Trial Court suspended work today, as peasants and activists protested on its grounds and called for the release of political prisoners Wilma and Benito Tiamzon.
BY DEE AYROSO
MANILA – The pre-trial hearing of political prisoners Wilma and Benito Tiamzon was deferred today, Oct. 21, as the Quezon City Hall of Justice suspended work for the day at around 8:30 a.m., prompted by a protest of more than 1,000 peasants outside the court.
Lawyer for the Tiamzons, Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), said QC Regional Trial Court (QC RTC) Executive Director Fernando Sagun Jr. announced that work and all hearings were cancelled. “To my understanding, because of security risks,” she said.
The mostly-peasant protesters called for the release of the Tiamzons and all political prisoners. They marched to the justice hall at 7 a.m. from the nearby office of the Department of Agrarian Reform (Dar) where they kept vigil the night before.
In reaction, the building security closed all gates, and some 30 anti-riot police men of the QC Police District were immediately deployed at the court’s entrance. The police men, complete with helmet, shields, and baton stood in two rows at the court’s entrance.
Pastores said that prior to the hearing, on Oct. 17, they filed a petition for certiorari at the Court of Appeals. On the same day, they filed a motion for the suspension of the pre-trial hearing at the QC RTC, to allow the CA to first decide on the certiorari petition.
The petition for certiorari questioned the order of branch 81 Judge Madonna Echiverri who denied their omnibus motion to set aside arraignment and to dismiss the case. The counsel said they were not given enough time to prepare for the arraignment, being informed of the schedule the day before.
Pastores added that “the case is clearly political, but they’re being charged with common crimes.”
Pastores said that Echiverri gave the public prosecutors 10 days to respond to their motion to suspend proceedings. The next hearing is still to be scheduled.
The Tiamzons are charged with kidnapping and illegal detention of four military and constabulary men, who were captured in a raid by the New People’s Army in Southern Tagalog. The four men were treated as prisoners of war and eventually released.
The Tiamzon couple, who arrived at 8 a.m., waited with their police escort at the justice hall’s side entrance for detainees, but the roll-down security door was kept shut. At one point, a police man who identified himself as “the police chief” banged loudly at the metal door and asked to be let in.
At around 8:30 a.m., the police men inside raised the door a few feet from the ground, and it seemed that the couple, along with their lawyers and police escort were about to be allowed inside. Just then, hundreds of protesters came marching in with their arms raised and shouting: “Palayain ang mag-asawang Tiamzon! Palayain ang lahat ng bilanggong pulitikal! (Free the Tiamzon couple! Free all political prisoners!)”
The building security rolled down the door with finality, as the Tiamzons raised their fists with the protesters. After a couple of minutes, the two were escorted to a police vehicle and brought back to detention in Camp Crame.