“Serious doubt has been raised over the malicious statements of the witnesses, which were the sole basis of information about the murder charges.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — A local court in Nueva Ecija issued warrants of arrest against former Bayan Muna Representatives Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casino, former Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano and National Anti-Poverty Commission Convenor Liza Maza for a case originally filed 12 years ago.
In a resolution dated July 11, 2018, Palayan Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 40 Judge Evelyn A. Atienza-Turla found probable cause for the double murder charges filed against the four former partylist lawmakers.
The complainants alleged that the former lawmakers ordered and directed the “liquidation” of a certain Carlito Bayudang on May 6, 2004 at about 8 p.m. at barangay Cruz, Bongabon, Nueva Ecija and of a certain Ricardo Peralta on Dec. 23, 2003 at around 10 a.m. along the national highway of barangay Sinipit, Bongabon, Nueva Ecija.
Lawyer Rachel F. Pastores, managing counsel of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), maintained that the case is fabricated and clearly meant to curtail the rights of her clients.
The case started on Dec. 14, 2006 when officers of the Nueva Ecija police referred to the Provincial Office of Prosecutor three cases of murder against Ocampo, Maza, Casino, Mariano and 15 other persons. The alleged victims include Bayudang, Peralta, and a certain Danilo Felipe.
Acting on the resolution of the prosecutors finding probable cause for murder, Judge Turla — the same judge who issued the warrants of arrest — said that “the proper procedure in the conduct of the preliminary investigation was not followed (by the panel of prosecutors).” In her order ten years ago, Turla said the supposed principal witnesses were not presented before the panel of prosecutors, much less subscribe their supposed affidavits before them. Turla added that the gravity of the offense “should have merited a deeper and more thorough preliminary investigation.”
The Supreme Court remanded the case to Palayan RTC Branch 40 for further proceedings on Feb. 15, 2017.
Turla made a turnaround. She issued a one page resolution which states, “A cursory examination of the case showed that a probable cause of the crime charged as shown in the information exists as against the accused.”
This bewildered Pastores. “There’s no new evidence, no new witnesses. What’s the basis for issuing warrants of arrest?” Pastores said in Filipino in a press conference July 27 in Quezon City.
The lawyer also lamented that her clients were never given a day in court. She added that the witnesses were not presented in court. “They have names but without faces,” she said.
Pastores said they will file a motion for reconsideration before the Palayan RTC on Monday to call on the court to quash the warrant and dismiss the case.
“Serious doubt has been raised over the malicious statements of the witnesses, which were the sole basis of information about the murder charges. Their ‘unsubstantiated accusations and statements’ were found to be in bad faith, maliciously intended to besmirch the name and reputation of our clients,” Pastores said in a statement.
Former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares pointed out that the widows of the alleged victims filed a disqualification case against Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriela Women’s Party on Feb. 17, 2008. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) dismissed the case on June 1, 2007 due to lack of merit. In its ruling, Comelec’s second division said that “after a careful scrutiny of the records of this case, we find no sufficient and convincing evidence to support the petitions and the allegations contained herein.”
In order to protect the integrity of their political party, Bayan Muna then filed a civil case against the complainants and witnesses before Quezon City RTC Branch 95. In his order dated June 27, 2016, Judge Edgardo B. Bellosillo decided in favor of Bayan Muna and Ocampo and awarded them P325,000 (US$6,000) in damages. The decision was also partly hinged on the Comelec’s dismissal of the petition for cancellation of registration of Bayan Muna.
If Turla would read the Comelec’s ruling and the QC local court’s decision, Colmenares said she would have no option but to junk the charges.
Another case based on the same evidence had been dismissed on Aug. 5, 2008. The Guimba RTC Branch 31 junked the kidnapping with murder case against Ocampo, Mariano, Maza and Casino for lack of probable cause.
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio noted that the revival of the case coincided with Gloria Arroyo’s takeover of the House leadership. “This is a classic GMA [Arroyo] move when she was in power. And it is being revived now that she is back in power. Darker times are indeed ahead,” Tinio said.
The case was just one of the many legal offensives filed against activists and political dissenters during the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration. Arroyo’s Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) was responsible for the filing of trumped-up charges against activists. It was abolished in 2009 due to protests and international pressure.
A committee with the same mandate was created by the Duterte administration on October 2017. The Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA) is given the power to handle major backlogs of the IALAG, to pursue unresolved cases against the NPA and other “enemies of the state.”