“There should be no immunity from impunity. Accountability will visit you over time. Maybe not instantly, immediately or not in the near future but eventually it will catch up on you.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The conviction of the two soldiers involved in the killing of activist Benjamin Bayles proves that extrajudicial killings are the handiwork of the state and its agents, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia said.
On March 31, Ana Celeste B. Bernad Acting Presiding Judge of Branch 42 Bacolod Regional Trial Court found Private First Class Roger Bajon and PFC Ronnie Caurino guilty for killing Bayles. They were sentenced up to 40 years in prison and ordered to pay the heirs of Bayles a total of P300,000 ($5,722) for indemnity and damages.
The decision came after nearly 12 years since June 14, 2010, when Bayles, while waiting for a ride in a populated barangay in Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental, was shot several times by two motorcycle-riding men with helmets .
Bayles was a Bayan Muna coordinator and a member of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. The perpetrators were positively identified by their own commanders as members of the 61st Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a hearing back in 2013
“It is a resounding and indubitable proof that extrajudicial killings had been committed by state security forces, in this instance by members of the military. The government cannot, with any credibility say that there are no extrajudicial killings much less its security forces are not engaging in such atrocious acts and more than that, that it is an orchestrated and premeditated policy and practice,” Olalia said in an online interview with Bulatlat.
In a statement, human rights group Karapatan said that the conviction of the two soldiers also “reaffirmed what the facts and circumstances on his killing and that of many victims of extrajudicial executions and human rights violations during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s bloody term have shown all along — that State security forces are behind such crimes against activists and members of progressive groups and that extrajudicial killings are indispensable component of the government’s counterinsurgency program.”
Karapatan has documented 1,206 victims of extrajudicial killings under Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2.
“There should be no immunity from impunity. Accountability will visit you over time. Maybe not instantly, immediately or not in the near future but eventually it will catch up on you. Even if this conviction can be considered a rarity because of the present justice system and political circumstances,” Olalia said.
Olalia also said that this conviction can also serve as a warning to the rank and file police and military officers who, in their defense of their crime, claim to have only been following orders from their superiors.
“This conviction validates our observation that the higher ups or those who call the shots are generally prancing around. These lowly soldiers and policemen, unfortunately, are being left behind. So this is also a warning to these rank and file police and military personnel that they are not bound or obliged legally, much less morally to follow wrong orders or unjust orders. You cannot escape your own punishment.” Olalia said.
While the conviction of the two soldiers is a victory, Olalia said it is hard to celebrate as one of the private lawyers, Ben Ramos, was killed while the case was ongoing.
“This is the biggest tragedy of it all. It took us 12 years, Ben Bayles is gone and Ben Ramos is gone too,” Olalia said.
It is such an irony, he said, that those who are pursuing justice for his client also became a victim of extrajudicial killings, this is why, Olalia said, it is bittersweet.
Ramos, a victim of red-tagging, was killed in November 2018.
“The celebration is muted. It’s like the feeling of someone close to you who passed the bar exam but on the (one) hand, your other friend did not make it,” Olalia said, adding that he and Ramos traveled together to Himamaylan, amid security threats, for the hearing before it was transferred to a court in Bacolod City. Himamaylan is a third class component city, 83 kilometers away from Bacolod.
Justice can be achieved
Olalia said that it may take long to achieve justice, but it is possible if combined with a metalegal approach.
He cited the conviction of Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan that also took years and the conviction of the killers and torturers of labor leader Rolando Olalia and unionist Leonor Alay-ay, which took three decades.
These successful legal pushbacks, Olalia said, are an achievement despite hardships and dangers that human rights defenders, lawyers, relatives and others face.
Olalia also stressed the importance of continued support to the cases, vigilance and perseverance.
“Because what you are looking after, you highlight so the public may know and those who judge will be more careful, more circumspect, and more conscious basing their decision on the law and facts,” Olalia said. (RTS, RVO)