First, I apologize to this column’s regular readers for my inability to come out with a piece in the past two weeks. By now I’m sure you have already surmised the reason why, given the wide reportage in the media on a questionable court case involving me.
Yes, considering the uneasy political climate, I have taken steps to ensure my freedom and physical safety in face of the unexpected issuance on July 11, 2018 by the Regional Trial Court Branch 40 in Palayan City, of an arrest warrant (which doesn’t allow bail) against me and three of my former party-list colleagues in the House of Representatives. They too have taken precautionary steps. The arrest order stemmed from a double-murder case filed against us in April 2008 – 10 years ago during the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime – when we were elected members of the House.
My three co-accused in the case are Liza Maza, former Gabriela Women’s Party representative, currently Anti-Poverty Commission lead convenor; Rafael Mariano, former Anakpawis representative and former Department of Agrarian Reform secretary; and Teodoro Casino, my fellow former Bayan Muna representative.
Let me make this clear: my colleagues and I have no wish to become fugitives from the law. We are not defying the court order. Essentially we want to uphold and pursue justice and assert our right to due process, which we maintain has been violated by the state prosecutors.
Thus, on July 30, we filed a motion for reconsideration of the July 11 order finding probable cause against us based on a “cursory examination of the case” and asked the Palayan RTC to quash the warrants of arrest. Again unexpectedly, the presiding judge who had handled the case since 2008 and who issued the arrest order has inhibited herself from the case. (On July 18, 2008, after she had examined all the evidence submitted by the prosecutors, she found them lacking to satisfy the standard for determining probable cause.)
At the hearing held last Aug. 3, the new presiding judge listened intently to our lawyer argue the merits of our motion. Turning to the prosecutor, he asked the latter if he had any comment, oral argument, or additional evidence. The prosecutor gave a uniform answer: “None, your honor.” Thereafter the judge declared the case submitted for resolution.
We the accused are hopeful that the new judge, given the prosecution’s lackadaisical stance, shall find our motion valid and our arguments strong as to immediately quash the arrest warrants – and dismiss the case altogether. Once the arrest warrants are quashed, my colleagues and I will come out to face whatever issue may remain to be resolved.
Now let’s look back briefly to the circumstances in the filing of the double-murder charge, along with two other spurious murder cases – one in Guimba, Nueva Ecija and the other in Eastern Leyte – filed against me and others during Arroyo’s tumultuous presidency.
We can get some help from the Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial last Wednesday, titled “Riding the tiger.” It substantially captured the political-persecution nature of the Palayan case. It noted that the case was “somewhat mysteriously resurrected,” and was met with an “obviously orchestrated offer of reward money,” from a lawyer of the Arroyos, for information that may lead to our arrest.
It pointed out the unexplained turnaround in the ruling of the Palayan court presiding judge, Evelyn Atienza Turla, cited earlier. On July 18, 2008 she found that “the proper procedure in the conduct of the preliminary investigation was not followed” and that “it appears that the state prosecutors were overly-eager to file the case and to secure a warrant of arrest…” However, rather than rule that no probable cause existed against us, Turla returned the case to the provincial prosecutor for a “proper investigation.”
We raised the issue to the Supreme Court. In March 2009, seeking nullification of the July 18 order and the dismissal of the case for lack of probable cause. The SC partially granted our petition: it directed Turla to resolve the lack of probable cause issue “with due and deliberate dispatch.”
In contrast to Turla’s ruling, the RTC-Guimba Branch 31 executive judge, on Aug. 5, 2008, ruled the prosecution evidence in the parallel murder charge insufficient to establish probable cause – as in the Palayan case – and dismissed the case accordingly.
The multiple-murder charge filed against me and others in Hilongos, Leyte in 2007 took the same route as the Palayan case. I filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition (dismissal of the charge) before the Supreme Court. After an en banc hearing of oral arguments, the SC granted me bail and deemed the case submitted for resolution. It took seven years (in 2013) for the SC to issue an order on the case: directing the Manila RTC to conduct a trial – which is still ongoing.
Note that in the Palayan and Leyte cases, it took the SC nine and seven years, respectively, to issue rulings that didn’t resolve the questioned cases outright.
However, in the ludicrous rebellion case filed in 2006 against the six of us progressive party-list representatives in the House (the “Batasan 6”) the SC promptly acted. Arroyo’s national security adviser and justice secretary bragged that in took them nine months to build up an evidence-tight case.
To their chagrin, on June 1, 2007, the SC ruled to dismiss the rebellion case for lack of merit. Moreover, the ruling included a rebuke of the justice secretary and the state prosecutors for having allowed themselves to be used (by a higher authority) for political persecution. Touche!
That case exposed the fact that when the justice department accedes unquestioningly to give the military intelligence and security forces the prime function of providing the evidence in “national security” related cases filed in court, it ends up in embarrassment.
Under the Duterte regime, the DoJ appears to have repeated its mistake under Arroyo’s. In filing a petition for proscription to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as terrorist organizations along with over 600 individuals, the DoJ used unvetted military intelligence reports as evidence. While I was among those who assailed the filing, I find myself not complaining about the court’s recent ruling.
In an order dated July 27, RTC-Manila Branch 19 Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar declared four of the 600-plus listed in the petition cleared of the “terrorist” tagging. I am one of the four, the others are UN Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpus, Jose Molintas, and Rafael Baylosis. Apparently our lawyers have succeeded in disproving the validity of the military reports as evidence. More of those in the list must fight for their exclusion too.
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Published in Philippine Star
Aug. 11, 2018