By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – A Quezon City court declared peace consultants Wilma Austria and Benito Tiamzon guilty of kidnapping and serious illegal detention — a case that was deemed politically motivated.
The Tiamzons are facing 40 years in prison and were ordered to pay damages, per the decision penned by Judge Alfonso C. Ruiz III of the Quezon City Trial Court Branch 26. The case stemmed from the alleged abduction of soldiers in Quezon province in 1988.
Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL) and lawyer of Wilma Austria said this is “a politically motivated persecution and hardline attack” as it was resurrected out of nowhere after 30 years. Instead of kidnapping, Austria’s lawyer said they should have been charged with rebellion instead, as the international humanitarian law stipulates that taking custody of a combatant is an act of war, and later a prisoner of war.
Public Interest Law Center’s Rachel Pastores assailed how only a lone prosecution witness’s statement was used as the basis for the guilty verdict against the couple.
Both have filed a manifestation before the court prior to the promulgation, enumerating serious threats against them.
Like the other peace consultants, Pastores said the Tiamzon spouses “could not effectively defend themselves in court because they and their witnesses are constantly subjected to threats to their lives, harassment and surveillance.”
“They could have easily presented evidence in their defense and dispute the clear lies of the lone prosecution witness, a high ranking member of the military,” Pastores added.
The Tiamzons were released on bail in 2016 to participate in the peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Philippine government. Tiamzon was a members of the negotiating panel. Both were supposedly covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig), which guarantees protection for those participating in the peace talks.
“The vilification of the Tiamzons, led by the president himself has constricted their space for remedy or relied at this time. Given the present factual milieu, the Tiamzons, along with other peace consultants facing false charges in court, cannot avail of fair trial,” Pastores said.