“It is not right to say that we forced them to sign the paper because it is for their benefit especially if the ATA is declared unconstitutional by the SC.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – There is no coercion, deception or bribery on the two Aetas to make them sign a petition for intervention at the Supreme Court (SC).
This is the assertion of their lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) in Central Luzon in a virtual press conference on Wednesday, Feb. 10. They also detailed the circumstances that made Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos affix their thumb marks in the Petition-In-Intervention that was eventually denied by the Supreme Court.
Bonifacio Cruz of the NUPL-CL said that they have been assisting Jasper Gurung and Junior Ramos since they were charged with Anti-Terror Act last year. He said that their services were sought to help the two with their case without any fee.
Cruz pointed out that it was the government that filed a case against Gurung and Ramos and not the NUPL.
“The two are in the custody of the government. We don’t know what they are doing to them, maybe there is pressure on them because practically they [government officials] are in control,” said Cruz.
The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and Public Attorney’s Office started talking with the two Aetas this year.
NUPL’s Julian Oliva Jr. reiterated that he explained well to Gurung and Ramos the document that they are about to affix their thumb mark with.
It was on January 30 that Oliva went to Olangapo City Jail to meet with the two for them to sign the petition for intervention to be filed with the SC. Oliva said he explained to them the ATA and its implications on human rights and that there are 37 petitions filed with the SC against the law. He also said that if the law will be declared unconstitutional, their case would also be dismissed and they would be freed.
“I told them that they are the first to be charged with ATA. After the discussion for almost an hour, Junior is ready to affix his thumb mark. But Japer is hesitant. He called a relative and after their conversation for about 15 minutes, he decided to affix his thumb mark,” Oliva narrated.
He said that the lawyers who went back to the jail the next day to notarize the document also made sure that the two voluntarily affix their thumb mark and they understand what is stated in the document.
“It is not right to say that we forced them to sign the paper because it is for their benefit especially if the ATA is declared unconstitutional by the SC,” Oliva said.
The P1,000 is not a bribe
The NUPL lawyers did not give any money to the Aetas, Oliva said.
Gia Clemente of the Umahon Gitnang Luzon said that the P1,000 came from the relatives of Gurung and Ramos. Clemente said she handed out the money, along with vegetables, to the two Aetas on Feb. 4, and not on the day Oliva visited the two.
Clemente also said that they are the ones who sought the help of the NUPL when they were arrested last year. There were also no representatives from the NCIP that time to help them.
“Why (come to their aid) only now? Now that the issue with the ATA is being highlighted,” Clemented said in Filipino.
Gurung and Ramos were arrested in August 2020 while fleeing their community in sitio Lumibao, San Marcelino, Zambales. They were tortured, and one of them was made to eat human feces.
State forces claimed that the two are members of the New People’s Army and were later charged with violation of the ATA.
Cruz said that the Aetas’ wives were also in jail and were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Up to now, Clemente said sitio Lumibao is still militarized. She said that elements of the 7th Infantry Division wanted to build a detachment in sitio Lumibao but they resisted for fear of human rights abuses.
“Last time they said that the military is forcing the community to produce the NPAs because they cannot find any. They are really sowing fear among the members of the community,” Clemente said.
Meanwhile, Cruz said they were able to talk with Gurung and Ramos on Wednesday, Feb. 10 to clear the air. Cruz asked them if they said that they were forced, and they were bribed and the Aetas said they were not.
“They are getting confused because of the many people that are talking to them,” Cruz said.
Cruz said the two Aetas expressed that they will no longer avail of NUPL services and PAO will take over their case. Cruz said this is not yet final as they have to tell it to the court themselves in the next hearing this Thursday, Feb. 11.
“We will see if they will affirm this in court. We will respect whatever is their decision because it is their right,” Cruz said.