By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – A progressive teachers’ group hailed the decision of an Olongapo City prosecutor denying the motion for reconsideration filed by the National Bureau of Investigation against a teacher who was charged with inciting to sedition over an alleged tweet offering a reward for anyone who would kill President Rodrigo Duterte.
Teacher Ronnel Mas was arrested last year following a post on Twitter offering P50 million reward to kill President Rodrigo Duterte. The tweet was posted amid criticisms of the government’s response to the pandemic.
An Olongapo court earlier dismissed the sedition charge, stating that verbal admissions made without the assistance of a lawyer are inadmissible as evidence and that there is no rule where such extrajudicial admission can “cure” a warrantless arrest.
The NBI re-filed the complaint but was dismissed by Acting Provincial Prosecutor JT Leonardo Santos, as there was no digital forensic report to prove that it was Mas who posted the tweet. When it filed a motion for reconsideration, the NBI submitted a new set of evidence – a CD containing his purported extrajudicial confession and an affidavit of an agent who was with Mas when he was illegally arrested.
“This Office is not a rubberstamp where it is a ministerial duty to file cases in court, especially where an agency of the government is the complainant. This Office is tasked with an important duty to uphold the law and respect the constitutional rights of any person who stands to be prosecuted for a crime,” the resolution penned by Santos read.
Prosecutor Santos maintained that while seditious remarks must not go unpunished, the rules of evidence in establishing probable cause must be upheld.
“It goes without saying that since the identity of the person who has twitted the seditious remarks has not been duly established, hence, it follows that there is a doubt as to the administrative liability of the respondent. It is not only axiomatic but logical that the same must necessarily fail,” the resolution read.
He noted that while it is undeniable that there is in fact a tweet, as screenshots were included in the complaint, “needless to emphasize is the imputation of the act on the respondent must be duly supported by evidence.”
“The NBI argues philosophically that the information gathered by the NBI through open sources was publicly posted in various social media platforms. There is no rule on prosecutorial notice on evidence publicly posted. The complainant cannot bank on news or social media posting to depend on the establishment of evidence to prove that the respondent is the one who ‘twitted’ such seditious remarks,” the resolution read.
After realizing the insufficiency of evidence to prove the identity of the perpetrator, the NBI submitted the new set of evidence earlier mentioned. The resolution, however, said that the video was only submitted now, which is “not only unprocedural but unauthenticated by the person who has actually downloaded it into a CD format.”
A win against state terror
A teachers’ group welcomed the decision of the Olongapo City prosecutor, hailing how Mas’s constitutional rights were upheld amid the NBI’s apparent attempt at circumventing court rules and procedures.
“This win does not only favor Teacher Ronnel’s fight against state forces’ bid to persecute him, but it also serves our overall fight against the state’s desperate attempts to weaponize the law to go after critics. This is indeed another welcome development for our sector and for democracy,” said Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Secretary General Raymond Basilio.
Assistant Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Representative France Castro, for her part, thanked human rights lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group. She also called for accountability for the trauma that Mas experienced.
“The charges faced by teacher Ronnel reek of double standard and refusal to follow due process. It is a hypocrisy of law enforcement when ordinary people are arrested, harassed, and threatened for posting on social media while the President continues his tirades against his critics.” Castro added.