By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – A Catholic bishop called for the immediate release of two peasant leaders accused of common crimes.
In a letter addressed to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima dated October 18, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)-National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa), called for the immediate release of Dario Tomada /2010/07/31/after-fleeing-from-palparan-peasant-leader-ends-up-in-manila-prison/ and Oscar Belleza. A copy of the letter was sent to Bulatlat.com by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas(KMP).
Tomada and Belleza, both peasant leaders in Eastern Visayas, were charged with15 counts of murder in relation to the alleged killing of of 15 members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) in Inopacan, Leyte in 1984. Both are detained at the Manila City Jail.
“It is clear to us that the crime being hurled against the two is pure and simple political harassment and their continuing detention constitutes a violation of their civil and human rights,” Pabillo said.
Pabillo said the two are peasant leaders in their respective towns in Leyte advocating genuine land reform and helping fellow farmers in cooperative farming. “Their being active in the peasants’ cause has earned the ire of the armed forces and labeled them as subversives,” Pabillo said.
At the time of their arrests, Tomada and Belleza had already left their hometowns for fear for their safety. Tomada, then working as a parking attendant in a restaurant in Binan, Laguna, was arrested on July 22, 2010. Belleza, then employed as a security guard in Olongapo City, was arrested on November 26, 2008.
Pabillo pointed out that the other co-accused, Satur Ocampo and Jaime Soledad, have been freed. Ocampo was arrested and detained in March 2007 on the same charge but was freed after posting bail at the Supreme Court. The court grants petition for bail if the evidence of guilt is weak. Soledad, on the other hand, was released July 22, with the court stating that “the requirements for the determination of the probable cause insofar as accused is concerned have not been met.”
Another co-accused, Randall Echanis, KMP deputy secretary general, who was also arrested in January 2008 in Bago City, was released in August 2009 after posting bail.
“The trumped up Leyte mass graves case is like the Sword of Damocles directed against leaders of progressive organizations. The Aquino administration continues to exploit this case to harass our leaders,” Danilo Ramos, KMP secretary general, said in a statement.