“Trumped-up charges are obviously meant to stifle the freedom of movement of political dissenters. This is the bigger crime.” – Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Human rights group Karapatan said the revival of trumped up charges against former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and peace consultants Randall Echanis, Rafael Baylosis, Vicente Ladlad and recently arrested Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria signals “the intensification of political persecution under the Aquino administration.”
“These were charges hatched under the auspices of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG), which was deemed by United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston as a means by which the government prosecutes and punishes ‘enemies of the state.’ While the IALAG was abolished due to extensive campaign of human rights groups and the international community, the policy and practice of filing trumped-up criminalized charges continues under the Aquino government,” Karapatan said in a statement.
In a decision dated February 11, the Supreme Court dismissed the consolidated petitions for certiorari filed by the accused and tasked the trial court to determine if the murders were committed in pursuing rebellion. Ocampo and more than 70 others were charged in connection with an alleged mass grave found in Inopacan, Leyte.
In a clarificatory hearing on April 1, Judge Marino dela Cruz Jr. of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 22 said the prosecutor in Leyte, referring to Rosulo Vivero, included in the case information that the accused are members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and that they ordered the killing.
Dela Cruz said should the court determine that the case was done in pursuit of rebellion, then the charges would be dropped and a rebellion case would be filed. The court, he added, would, however, wait for the decision of the Supreme Court on the motion for reconsideration that Ocampo and his co-accused filed before the high court on March 10.
On the same day, however, the Supreme Court upheld its February 11 decision and gave the Manila Trial Court Brach 32 “the go-ahead to proceed with the multiple murder trial of former Bayan Muna Rep. Saturnino Ocampo and three other consultants of the Communist Party of the Philippines – National Democratic Front in connection with the discovery of a mass grave in Inopacan, Leyte some eight years ago,” Interaksyon.com reported.
In an interview with Bulatlat.com after the clarificatory hearing, Ocampo said, “it is as if they are inducing us to prove that (we are guilty) of rebellion so we can be charged so. But we do not want that.”
Ocampo, in his weekly column at the Philippine Star, said “the murder charge is the only remaining court case (all instigated by the state security forces) I have to confront, fight and win. Since 1978 I have confronted eight various charges — but have never been proven guilty of any crime.”
In their motion for reconsideration filed before the high court, Ocampo and his co-accused argued that the five of the 12 skeletal remains found in Inopacan, Leyte were the very same found in the alleged mass grave in Baybay, Leyte in 2000.
The petition claimed that public prosecutor Vivero misled the judge and the parties by implying that the identities of the victims have been ascertained through forensic evidence.
Petitioners also found no sufficient evidence for the warrant of arrest issued against the accused.
“The petition stated that Ocampo was detained at the time of the incident. The petition also stated that of the voluminous documents submitted by the complainants as their so-called evidence, the name of Randall Echanis was mentioned only once. The name of Rafael Baylosis, meanwhile, was mentioned by three prosecution witnesses who averred that Baylosis is one of the members of the CPP Central Committee who ordered the alleged mass killings,” a previous Bulatlat.com report read.
Ocampo said that at the time that the murder charges were filed there was also an existing rebellion case pending at the Regional Trial Court of Makati.
“They did not subsume it to the rebellion case, which was dismissed in 2007,” he said.
“If the Supreme Court will not decide on our favor, we will still raise the issues before the RTC trial,” Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center, lawyer for the accused, told Bulatlat.com.
‘Vintage martial law’
In a statement, Karapatan said that “how the police and military have arrested, demonized and dealt with the latest political prisoners Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Austria and their five companions, and the arrest of the late Ka Roger Rosal’s daughter, is vintage martial law practice.”
The group said “planting” of evidence has long been used by state security forces to justify arrest and detention of activists.
“They also exploit the use of John and Jane Does, even aliases, to charge anyone as respondents to a case,” Karapatan added.
Karapatan documented 570 cases of illegal arrests and detention from June 2010 to December 2013. About 152 out of the 427 political prisoners as of Dec. 2013 were detained under Aquino’s term. They include the likes of NDFP consultants who are charged with trumped up common crimes.
“Leaders of people’s organizations in Negros, for instance, are constantly threatened with fabricated criminal charges of the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and the PNP [Philippine National Police]. Under the Aquino government, the assault on political dissenters through the filing of trumped-up charges is on the rise. In an attempt to silence opposition to its administration, they make up all sort of charges using the wildest of their imagination,” Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said.
Palabay said, “Trumped-up charges are obviously meant to stifle the freedom of movement of political dissenters. This is the bigger crime. The Aquino government should stop silencing its critics, or his regime is bound to face bigger protests for violating human rights here and there.”