“We cannot do anything. But just the same, this is completely a fabricated, planted and manufactured case. This is meant to demonize us and the mass movement.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and other progressive leaders accused in the Hilongos mass grave case did not enter any plea in their arraignment today, May 7.
Judge Thelma Bunyi of Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 32 entered a not guilty plea for the accused, namely, Makabayan president Satur Ocampo, and NDFP peace consultants Vicente Ladlad, Randall Echanis and spouses Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria.
Rafael Baylosis, their co-accused, did not attend the arraignment. His lawyer Amylyn Sato said he was not feeling well due to hypertension. His arraignment would be held on the pretrial hearing, scheduled on July 30. Sato said Baylosis is most likely not to enter a plea like his co-accused.
Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), one of the defense lawyers, told the media after the hearing that the accused did not enter any plea due to their pending petition before the Court of Appeals, questioning the validity of the charges.
Yesterday, May 6, the PILC received a copy of the motion of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), asking the CA for a 30-day extension of the submission of their comment to the petition for certiorari filed by the accused last year. The defense, for its part, is given five days to respond to the OSG’s comment.
This was the ground for the deferment of the arraignment in the hearing in February.
Pastores told Bulatlat.com that the defense hopes that the CA will issue a favorable decision before the pretrial hearing.
During the hearing, Pastores asked if the pretrial could be scheduled in August, citing that while they understand the predicament of accused who are in detention, the pretrial should not be done at the expense of lack of time to prepare for it. Judge Bunyi, however, denied her request, saying that it should be set in the earliest date possible in consideration for accused who are in detention.
“We cannot do anything. But just the same, this is completely a fabricated, planted and manufactured case. This is meant to demonize us and the mass movement,” Tiamzon told Bulatlat.com.
Ocampo said the case is a remnant of the now defunct Interagency Legal Action Group (Ialag) of the Arroyo administration, which was abolished due to strong local and international criticisms that it was used to silence activists through the filing of trumped up cases.
“This is a trap. They want us to argue before the court that we should be charged with rebellion and not murder,” he added.
The military claims it dug up the mass grave in 2006, and found skeletons of victims of an alleged anti-infiltration campaign by the CPP. The defense has repeatedly said that the skeletons were the same ones allegedly exhumed in a mass grave in Baybay, Leyte in 2000.
There are more than 70 respondents in the case.