Lawyer seeks dropping of detention charge vs Rizal AlihBy Julie M. Aurelio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The lawyer of former policeman Rizal Alih is asking a Quezon City court to dismiss the charge of serious illegal detention against his client, pointing out that Alih was originally arraigned on murder charges only.
Citing court records, defense counsel Fernando Peña said that Alih, 67, pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned on murder charges in 2006 in connection with the 1989 siege on a police camp in Zamboanga City.
“It is very glaring and obvious now that the accused did not understand or know that he would be prosecuted for the crime of serious illegal detention. The information that was read for him by the court staff was that of the crime of murder,” the lawyer said in his pleading.
The accused filed a motion to dismiss through Peña in the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 101 which is hearing the serious illegal detention case against him in relation to late Brigadier General Eduardo Batalla and Colonel Romeo Abendan, who died in 1989 during the siege of Camp Cawa-Cawa in Zamboanga.
The siege had been blamed on Alih, who escaped and went into hiding in Malaysia until his arrest and deportation to the Philippines in 2006.
He has been detained since then at the Camp Crame custodial center in Quezon City.
The prosecution initially filed two counts of murder against Alih for the deaths of Batalla and Abendan in 1999.
In the motion to dismiss, Peña noted that in 2006, state prosecutors filed an amended charge against Alih and several John Does, still for the crime of murder.
“However, in the said motion, the prosecution did not specifically state that the crime of murder will be amended and replaced with a new and distinct crime of serious illegal detention,” the defense said.
Alih was arraigned in September 2006 on two counts of murder and pleaded not guilty, court records showed.
In a demurrer to evidence, the defense later asked the court in 2009 to dismiss the murder charges on grounds of insufficient evidence.
The following year, the court resolved the pleading by junking it and changing the charges to serious illegal detention.
The court explained in its order that “if murder was the offense defined as alleged in the information, the accused would have been acquitted for lack of direct evidence to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that he murdered the victims.”
According to Batalla’s death certificate, the cause of death was a heart attack and sixth degree burns. A medico-legal officer testified in 2007 that he found no gunshot wounds or lacerations on the corpse.
In an interview, Peña said this was contrary to the popular notion that Alih beheaded Batalla, adding that the decades-long belief was false.
As to Abendan, Alih’s lawyer said the police official died of severe burns from the siege.
Peña argued that his client’s right to due process was grossly violated with the turn of events.
He explained that the amended charge of serious illegal detention is “distinct and different” from the original case of murder, which is a substantial amendment which requires a reinvestigation at the prosecutors’ level.
The lawyer added that “the amended information for serious illegal detention from murder is a substantial amendment which prejudiced the rights of the accused.”
“The record will categorically show that the court never acquired jurisdiction over the charge of ‘serious illegal detention’ against the accused. As such, the proceedings may be declared as null and void or a complete nullity,” Peña said.
Peña added that even if the prosecution sought to amend the charges, the recourse should be the dismissal of the murder cases and the holding of a new preliminary investigation to look into the charge of serious illegal detention.
Both murder and serious illegal detention are non-bailable offenses under the Revised Penal Code. Both also carry the same penalty of reclusion perpetua.
In 2006, the Supreme Court ordered the transfer of the trial from Zamboanga to Quezon City, citing security reasons.