By JUSTIN UMALI
SAN PABLO CITY, Laguna – Almost two years in, the Department of Justice dismissed a criminal case against 17 police officers involved in the death of labor leader and activist Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion, January 17.
According to the resolution released last January 17, there was no probable cause for the indictment of murder. It added that the evidence submitted failed to “prove the existence of a crime and identify the perpetrators thereof,” stating that the 17 police officers were in the process of conducting legitimate police operations.
Asuncion was a coordinator for Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Cavite. He was particularly involved in organizing workers and urban poor communities around the area. On March 7, 2021, he was killed alongside eight other activists in the Southern Tagalog region – an event now known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Rights group DEFEND Southern Tagalog condemned the decision, asserting that the DOJ’s insistence on “presumption of regularity” is a “grave injustice.”
“How can they expect Ka Manny’s wife to identify the killers when they covered their name plates, wore ski masks, and barged in the office with no search warrant?” asked Charm Maranan, DEFEND ST spokesperson.
The group added that the facts of the case point to signs of a “grisly murder” and a “premeditated killing.”
“Asuncion was not humanely treated on [March 7, 2021]. The prosecutor’s absolution of the 17 police officers reinforces this,” DEFEND ST said in a press statement. “But seemingly the police officers’ template chorus of ‘presumption of regularity’ seemed fit for the prosecutor, even after the thousands of tokhang cases with a reprise of the same.”
Tokhang has been referred to as drug-related extrajudicial killings.
Two years of back and forth
In April 2021, the DOJ, through Administrative Order 35, created a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to deliberate the facts of the Bloody Sunday killings, including the Asuncion case.
According to the SIT investigation, no less than 15 operatives forcibly entered the office of the Workers’ Assistance Center in Dasmariñas City, Cavite province and ordered Asuncion and his wife, Liezl, to drop to the ground. The operatives failed to disclose that they were implementing a search warrant, nor did they acknowledge Asuncion’s request to see any warrant. Six operatives in particular wore ski masks and had their name plates covered with a red cloth.
Two operatives then dragged Asuncion and Liezl to the staircase. Asuncion was made to crouch while Liezel was dragged outside. A gunshot was heard shortly after. The operatives then took off with Asuncion’s body in tow.
Autopsy records revealed that Asuncion was shot “multiple times” on the chest, concluding that the manner of death was “homicide.”
Based on these findings, the SIT recommended in September 2021 the filing of a complaint against 17 operatives involved in the case. Preliminary investigation began months later, on February 22, 2022.
Maranan compared Asuncion’s case against that of Juanito Jose Remulla’s. “Plainly noting the long process of justice for activists, compared to the relatively expedient ordeal of Juanito Jose Remulla, is an example of how Lady Justice’s scales have been tipped against actual justice,” said DEFEND ST in its statement.
Juanito Remulla, son of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, was arrested on drug charges on October 11, 2022 and acquitted 88 days later, on January 6, 2023.
Bad omen for other Bloody Sunday cases
Maranan has stated that the DOJ decision is a “bad omen for other Bloody Sunday cases,” specifically referring to the case of Chai Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista, peasant organizers and members of the organization Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan (UMALPAS KA), who were similarly killed during the Bloody Sunday raids.
The DOJ similarly recommended the filing of murder charges against police officers involved in the killing of the Evangelista couple but no resolutions have come out yet. Justice similarly eludes the other Bloody Sunday victims – Melvin Dasigao, Macmac Bacasno, Randy and Puroy Dela Cruz, and Edward and Abner Esto.
DEFEND ST has promised to “continue the struggle for justice,” and is exploring avenues to appeal the case. Labor rights organization Center for Trade Union and Human Rights similarly hopes that the upcoming High Level Tripartite Mission to be conducted by the International Labor Organization becomes “instrumental in our quest for justice for Ka Manny and many other victims of extrajudicial killings.” (RVO)