“Somehow, we see a ray of light after more than a year since we filed the civil case. We hope this would continue until we find justice.” — Gary Liberal, one of the Morong 43
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – A local court in Quezon City denied the motion to dismiss filed by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her military officials in the damage suit filed by six health workers who were arrested and detained during the Arroyo administration.
Judge Ma. Luisa Padilla of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 226 issued the resolution dated May 10, a copy of which was sent to Bulatlat.com by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).
The complainants in the civil suit are members of the so-called Morong 43, a group of doctors and health workers who were arrested in Morong, Rizal in February 2010 and detained for ten months for fabricated charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. In April 2011, six of the Morong 43 filed a P15 million ($348 thousand) damage suit against their captors, the then leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the former president. The health workers also filed a criminal complaint for torture against the same defendants before the Department of Justice last May.
Contrary to Arroyo’s assertion that the complaint “fails to state a cause of action and that the complainants have no cause of action against her,” Padilla, in her decision, said the allegations in the complaint are “sufficient to constitute a cause of action for damages.”
Citing Philippine Bank of Communications v. Trazo, the court defines a cause of action as “an act or omission of one party in violation of the legal right of the other.”
The court noted that Arroyo, in seeking to dismiss the suit against her, “does not in any way question the existence of the plaintiffs’ right to be free from illegal arrest, detention and torture and that there is a corresponding obligation on her part to respect such right or not to violate such right.”
Arroyo also told the court that the complaint was one “against the Philippine Government’s implementation of its national security plan” and not specifically against her. She claimed that there was no act, duty or omission that could be pinned to her, and that her role in the entire affair was “incidental”.
The court said it “does not find any merit on Arroyo’s argument.”
“The court notes that the specific acts complained of by the plaintiffs [Morong 43] were alleged to have been performed for purposes of implementing the purported counter-insurgency program. Having said this, the court cannot subscribe to defendant Arroyo’s line of reasoning, for to do so would suggest that the allegations in the complaint should be taken separately, instead of evaluating the complaint in its entirety,” the decision states.
Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya has been regarded by human rights groups as the bloodiest counterinsurgency program implemented by the Philippine government. In her nine-year rule, Karapatan documented more than victims of extrajudicial killings and more than 200 victims of enforced disappearances.
No less than Philip Alston, former United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions blamed Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program as being behind the killings.
Gary Liberal, one of the six complainants, welcomed the development. “Somehow, we see a ray of light after more than a year since we filed the civil case,” Liberal said in an interview with Bulatlat.com. “We hope this would continue until we find justice.”
“Arroyo, as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, must be held accountable for our illegal arrest. It is impossible that she did not know of our case. She did not even lift a finger to investigate the incident despite appeals from our relatives and supporters,” Liberal said.
The court also denied the motions filed by former Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Ibrado and Gen. Delfin Bangit. The two generals said they held no specific control over the joint army and police unit that arrested the Morong 43. Both generals called for the dismissal of the case on the ground of violation of the rule of non-forum shopping, citing the pending case filed by the Morong 43 with the Commission on Human Rights a few weeks after the arrest.
The court said the nature of the suits is not similar. The findings of the CHR, according to the court, would have no effect on any judgment that may be rendered by the court after trial on the merits.
Both generals also argued that the use of command responsibility is “legally inaccurate, if not incorrect” and “cannot be used for impleading them.”
The court said the arguments raised by Ibrado and Bangit are matters of defenses and are evidentiary in nature. The court “deems it prudent to pass upon these matters only after the presentation of evidence in the instant case.”
Other defendants are former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, former 2nd Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Jorge Segovia, Col. Cristobal Zaragosa, Maj. Manuel Tabion, Gen. Aurelio Baladad, Lt. Col. Jaime Abawag, Supt. Marion Balolong and Supt. Allan Nubleza.
Segovia, Zaragoza and Baladad have since been promoted despite the cases filed against them.
Liberal said that Aquino is not at all sincere in curbing impunity. “Instead of punishing the perpetrators of human rights violations, the Aquino administration even promoted them,” he said.
“All of the defendants have in one way or another, enabled the policy of picking up civilians, sowing terror, threatening dissidents, torturing, abducting and even killing political activists in the guise of ‘anti-insurgency’. We are relieved that the Court is finally allowing that this well-known fact be established judicially, as this is the core of countercharges against state-backed human rights violations,” NUPL secretary general Edre U. Olalia, said in a statement.
NUPL serves as counsels for the Morong 43 and other victims of human rights violations.
“This gives somehow a flicker of hope to all rights victims who have been waiting for justice for the longest time. This ruling should encourage other victims to come forth, present their valid claims and can be a precedent in future cases against state violators,” Olalia said.
The NUPL said the court’s decision is an initial victory in the efforts to stop impunity.
“While the Court believes that Arroyo cannot simply escape accountability by desperately citing incongruous arguments, still we are a long way from justice,” said Olalia.
The Morong 43 civil case will have to proceed to mediation proceedings on July 6.
Earlier, a similar motion to dismiss a damage suit filed by members of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines against Arroyo was denied by QC RTC Branch 224 under Judge Tita Marilyn Payoyo-Villardon.
Arroyo, now representative of Pampanga’s second district, is detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center for charges of electoral sabotage. The Aquino administration has not filed any cases against Arroyo for human rights violations.