By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — After nine years of searching for justice, the 43 health workers arrested, detained and tortured by the military are still facing a blank wall.
This after the Sandiganbayan 7th Division dismissed the charges of violations of Republic Act No. 7438, otherwise known as “An Act Defining Certain Rights of Person Arrested, Detained or Under Custodial Investigation as well as the Duties of the Arresting, Detaining and Investigating Officers, and Providing Penalties for Violations Thereof” filed against several military and police officials. In a resolution dated July 1, the Sandiganbayan junked the charges for “insufficiency of evidence.”
Roneo Clamor, Karapatan deputy secretary general and husband of one of the Morong 43, Dr. Merry Mia Clamor, said in a statement, “The decision of the 7th Division of the Sandiganbayan on the Morong 43 case is one of the most stark indications that despite strong evidence and testimonies of human rights violations by State actors, impunity rules the land.”
The Sandiganbayan said that the prosecution failed to prove that private complainants have counsel(s) of choice at the time of arrest and during detention, and that accused obstructed, prevented or prohibited said private complainants from conferring with their counsel of choice.
Lawyers of the Morong 43 are frustrated with the decision.
Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said with sarcasm, “Lesson: next time, all individuals, especially those labelled “enemies of the State,” must have a written engagement (notarized preferably) of a specifically named lawyer of choice in one’s wallet, purse or backpack saying: “In case of any arrest, detention, torture or disappearance, pls contact Atty ABC at the following numbers XXXX”. That is, if the police or military do not help themselves to your wallet and let you eat that piece of paper.”
In their testimonies, the Morong 43 health workers said they were denied counsel when they were arrested on Feb. 6, 2010 in Morong, Rizal. They were held incommunicado in Camp Capinpin, a military camp, where they were interrogated and tortured to falsely admitting they were members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.
The Sandiganbayan decision, signed by Associate Justices Zaldy Trespeses, Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta and Georgina Hidalgo, also ruled that the prosecution failed to establish conspiracy among the accused in the commission of the offense charged.
The court said the complainants failed to identify the accused.
Merry Mia Clamor, Mercy Castro and Ma. Teresa Quinawayan, three of the Morong 43, testified that they recognized the voices of military officials who interrogated them while they were blindfolded.
Among those charged were Jorge Segovia, then commanding officer of the 2nd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army; Joselito Reyes, then chief of staff of the 2nd Infantry Division; Aurelio Baladad, then the commanding officer of the 202 Infantry Brigade, which had operational control over the place of the arrest in Morong, Rizal; and Marion Balonglong, as he was part of the arresting team.
Also charged were Allan Nobleza, chief of the Intelligence Branch of the Philippine National Police-Rizal Province; Jovily Carmel Cabading, spokeswoman of Camp Capinpin under 2nd Infantry Division, and; Cristobal Zaragoza, then the Intelligence Officer of the 2nd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.
Clamor recounted the torture experienced by his wife and 42 other health workers. “They were blindfolded, handcuffed, and deprived of sleep and rest…Some of them received beatings from their captors. They were subjected to humiliation when the soldiers refused to give them privacy when they used comfort rooms.”
“They were told that they have no other choice but to admit the trumped up charges filed against them, because their lawyers, families and organizations have abandoned them. They were threatened to be killed, along with their families,” Clamor said.
A Commission on Human Rights (CHR) resolution dated April 21, 2015 said that the health workers were tortured and deprived of their rights against unlawful search and seizure and their rights as detainees.
The CHR listed down the rights violated at the time of their arrest. These were:
1. Right to counsel immediately after arrest
2. Right against incommunicado status
3. Right against prolonged and repeated interrogation to elicit information
4. Right to sleep
5. Visitation rights of families and relatives
6. During tactical interrogation, they were threatened with death and forced to admit membership in the New People’s Army
7. They were alternately threatened, and convinced to cooperate with the military in exchange of getting their cases fixed or rewards
8. They were deprived privacy, and sexually harassed
Karapatan pointed out that many of the respondents, including Segovia, Baladad and Zaragoza have been promoted to higher posts in the military hierarchy.
Segovia was appointed as 10th Infantry Division chief of the Philippine Army and consequently Commanding General of the Eastern Mindanao Command. Baladad was assigned as 3rd Infantry Division-Philippine Army chief and also commanding general of the Eastern Mindanao Command.
Karapatan said that numerous reports of human rights violations have been documented during Segovia and Baladad’s stints in Mindanao and Panay.
Zaragoza, meanwhile, was previously assigned to the 4th Infantry Division in Northern Mindanao and is now commander of the AFP’s Joint Task Force-National Capital Region.
“When torturers and human rights violators are rewarded with promotions and acquittals for the crimes they have perpetuated against individuals and communities, this means that the infrastructure of impunity has been so ingrained in the justice system in the country,” Clamor said.
Clamor vowed to continue to struggle for justice and accountability.
The torture charges filed by Morong 43 were also dismissed in October 2015 . The civil case, meanwhile, is pending with a Quezon City local court, according to Olalia.