MANILA, Philippines?After 14 years, a complaint of torture filed by the so-called Abadilla 5 against their arresting officers were finally acted upon by judicial authorities.
The Office of the Ombudsman Monday recommended the filing of criminal charges against 15 policemen for allegedly torturing and violating the rights of five people who were convicted 11 years ago by Quezon City Judge Jaime Salazar for the June 13, 1996, murder of former Col. Rolando Abadilla, a dreaded intelligence officer during the Marcos regime.
Salazar found the accused?Lenido Lumanog, Cesar Fortuna, Joel de Jesus, Rameses de Jesus and Augusto Santos?guilty beyond reasonable doubt on the basis of the uncorroborated testimony of a single eyewitness and the confessions that the police extracted from the accused through torture. They were sentenced to death by lethal injection.
The latest move by the Office of the Ombudsman, however, offers some hope to the Abadilla 5, whose conviction has recently been affirmed by the Supreme Court. The Abadilla 5 have filed a motion for reconsideration.
At every stage of the judicial process, the Abadilla 5 have insisted they were denied their right to a fair trial when operatives of Task Force Rolly, a special police unit formed to solve the Abadilla killing, arrested them illegally, detained them in a ?safe house,? and beat confessions out of them.
Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro said medico-legal reports of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) supported the Abadilla 5?s allegations of torture against the members of Task Force Rolly.
Ordered charged were Senior Supt. Romulo Sales; Senior Supt. Bartolome Baluyut; Chief Insp. Robert Ganzon; Chief Insp. Romeo Regis; Senior Insp. Anthony Rodolfo; Insp. Rogelio Castillo; SPO4 Dario Anasco; SPO2 Pio Tarala; SPO1 Edelberto Nicanor; Insp. S. Ceddamon; SPO4 Ramira; SPO2 C. Nocum; SPO1 P. Pobre; PO3 Juanito Cabiling; and PO3 Wilfredo Hidalgo.
Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez vowed to resolve the torture complaint of the Abadilla 5 after she met with their families last week. She said her office was not able to promptly act on the torture complaint as it was handling too many cases.
In an earlier interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Joel de Jesus said he was suffocated with a plastic bag and subjected to electric shocks inside a ?safe house.?
Fortuna said his interrogators blindfolded him, cuffed his hands and feet to a wooden bench, and doused cold water on his body.
?They applied electric shocks until the water on my body dried,? he told the Inquirer. ?Then, they put a plastic bag over my head. When I passed out, they revived me and gave me electric shocks again.?
As he convulsed, Fortuna said, the metal cuffs on his wrists and ankles cut into the flesh. All his toenails later chipped off.
Rameses de Jesus said he was also subjected to the ?water cure,? electric shocks and ?plastic bag? treatment. He said he was blindfolded with packaging tape and told that he was to be ?salvaged.?
While blindfolded inside the safe house, Lumanog said he heard an officer cock his firearm and felt a gun pointed at his head. Several officers held him down and banged his forehead on the floor.
Santos said that upon his arrest, he was brought to Camp Karingal, beaten and made to sign a confession that Joel de Jesus had paid him to take part in the killing.
Top commanders of Task Force Rolly had denied the Abadilla 5?s claims of torture.
The London-based Amnesty International, which has won the Nobel Peace Prize for its defense of human rights worldwide, examined the affidavits and counteraffidavits submitted to CHR investigators, assessed various medical reports and reviewed the testimony of the Abadilla 5.
In its October 2000 report on the case of the Abadilla 5, Amnesty International found their accounts of torture compelling.
?The organization regards the chronology of events in the (police) investigation, combined with the compelling testimony of the suspects and the available physical evidence, as consistent with patterns of arrest, detention and torture reported by a broad range of political and criminal suspects both in the past and today,? Amnesty International said.
?This pattern includes the beating of suspects as they are arrested, mostly without warrants; the denial of rights to counsel and to medical and family visits during extended periods of incommunicado detention; and the use of force, including techniques applied deliberately so as not to leave visible marks, mainly to coerce suspects or the naming of suspected accomplices,? it added.
For 14 years, the Abadilla 5 have pleaded with judicial authorities to resolve their complaint of torture which, if acted upon, would further weaken the prosecution?s case against them.
In April 2008, the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of the Abadilla 5, saying the uncorroborated testimony of the lone witness was sufficient to establish their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Citing the abolition of capital punishment, the appellate court reduced the death sentence earlier meted out on the Abadilla 5 to a 40-year prison term with no possibility of parole.
In September last year, the Supreme Court voted 10-4 to uphold the ruling of the Court of Appeals. A motion for reconsideration is pending in the high court. Leila B. Salaverria