By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares is calling for the removal of fiscals and judges who help elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines file “fake charges” against leaders of progressive party-lists and human rights advocates.
Colmenares also hailed the move of Makabayan Coalition leader in Negros Romulo Bitoon to file charges against a judge and a prosecutor in Negros for their alleged involvement with the military on the matter of filing harassment cases against activists, human rights defenders and even members of political parties such as Bayan Muna.
Earlier this week, Bitoon filed charges against those handling the cases of several Negros activists who were mentioned in indictment sheets as having participated in the New People’s Army raid on a fishpond business in Brgy. Bulanon, Sagay in 2011. Included in the charge sheets filed by the Sagay City prosecuting attorney were legal activists, which included Bayan-Negros Secretary-General Christian Tuayon and Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) -Negros spokesman Ronald Ian Evidente.
Besides them, civilians Bitoon, Rogina Quilop, Josephine Torrecampo, and a few others were named in the complaints filed by the military over attacks on the Victorias Milling Company (Vicmico) and the Toboso town transloading station. The names of the activists were included in the complaint in lieu of John or Jane Does.
In April 2010, Bitoon himself was accused by the military of being a ranking leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) and was arrested in Bacolod. The warrant for his arrest was signed under criminal case number 4201 by Judge Catherine Go of Regional Trial Court Branch 59 of San Carlos City. The arresting officers were from the Negros Occidental Provincial Police Office (Noppo) Intelligence Branch and the 303rd Brigade of the Philippine Army. They cited Presidential Decree 1613, which, they said, Bitoon violated by committing arson.
Taking the place of Jane and John Doe
Human rights activists have been decrying how those accused are not sent subpoenas, not informed of the charges and therefore, not being given the opportunity to answer the complaints. It such cases, the accused civilians appear as if they had waived their rights and decided to allow the prosecutor to decide on the case even without their involvement in the proceedings.
Colmenares said prosecutors could not charge a person by merely putting in his name to replace a “John Doe” or “Jane Doe” without giving the accused the right to a preliminary investigation.
“This is against the due process rights of an accused and is a violation of the Department of Justice circular issued by then Sec. Franklin Drilon prohibiting the use of John Does without aptly describing them in the criminal complaint as this is prone to abuse,” he argued.
Colmenares also said judges are not expected to issue warrants of arrest on the basis of “faulty and highly irregular complaints” filed by prosecutors.
“I hope the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice will immediately intervene to stop this practice and sanction those who are found committing these abuses. If we allow this kind of a legal tactic, then any human rights advocate, opposition member, media, even elected officials could find themselves being arrested and jailed without knowing why,” said the lawmaker.
Stop manipulating the law to harass activists.
Colmenares also confirmed that the Department of Justice is preparing a circular to reiterate the prohibition of the use of “John Does” to harass activists.
“Justice Secretary Leila de Lima herself condemned this practice during the congressional hearings on the DOJ Budget. She promised to issue the appropriate circular to proscribe this practice,” he said.
The human rights lawyer sad the battle against impunity must not only be waged against the perpetrators of human rights abuses.
“We must also go after the support structures of impunity that makes it difficult to hold the perpetrators accountable thereby shielding them from investigation and prosecution,” he said. He called on all human rights lawyers in the country, especially members of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL to start filing criminal, administrative and civil cases against witnesses who commit perjury, the military and police who file the malicious and false criminal complaints, the fiscals who file criminal cases without a preliminary investigation and judges who issue warrants on the basis of these harassment suits.
“Those found guilty of conspiracy in these harassment cases has caused so much suffering on many human rights advocates and they must not only be removed from office but must also be convicted and sent to prison so that they will get a taste of what they have made others suffer,” he stressed.
“This should also serve as a warning to those who plan to file harassment cases against members of political parties like Bayan Muna and Makabayan similar to the case of the famous Batasan Six in 2006.
“These acts are in fact partisan political activity which can merit additional sanctions against judges, prosecutors, the police and other public officials,” Colmenares said.
In April 2006, the Department of Justice filed rebellion charges before the Makati Regional Trial Court against progressive party-list Reps. Crispin Beltran, Satur Ocampo, Joel Virador, Teodoro Casino, Liza Maza, and Rafael Mariano on the accusation that they “conspired and confederated with each other” to overthrow the Macapagal-Arroyo government.
In June 2007, the Supreme Court ordered the Department of Justice to dismiss the rebellion charges “ for lack of probable cause and due process. “ The High Court also scored then Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales and the prosecutors for their lack of impartiality, declaring that there was “obvious involvement of political considerations in their actuations.”