Officials in arrest of ‘Morong 43’ allowed to contest charges
MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan has allowed police and military officials tagged in the alleged illegal arrest and torture of the “Morong 43” or the 43 health workers in Morong, Rizal in 2010 to contest charges against them.
In a four-page resolution from the Seventh Division dated March 5, the officials who jointly filed their motions were given 10 days to file their demurrer to evidence.
“After carefully reviewing accused’s motion for leave and the prosecution’s evidence, and further finding the issues and arguments relied by accused to be substantial and not merely to delay the proceedings, the Court resolves to grant the same,” the resolution authored by Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses said.
Once the officials file their demurrer, the prosecution is also given 10 days to file their own comments.
A demurrer to evidence is in effect a motion to dismiss filed by the accused after the prosecution finished its presentation of evidence.
The demurrer is anchored on the ground that the evidence presented by the prosecution is insufficient.
‘Grounds for case dismissal’
The counsel for 2nd Infantry Division commander Lieutenant General Jorge Segovia, Major General Aurelio Baladad, Brigadier General Joselito Reyes, Colonel Cristobal Zaragoza, Major Jovily Cabading, P/Supt. Marion Balonglong, and P/Supt. Allan Nobleza cited seven issues which can be considered as grounds for dismissal of cases filed by health workers dubbed as “Morong 43”.
According to the defense, the prosecution failed to prove that the detainees were deprived of counsel.
Under R.A. 7438 or the Act Defining the Rights of Person Arrested, Detained or Under Custodial Investigation, “any person arrested detained or under custodial investigation should at all times be assisted by counsel”.
If arresting officers do not inform arrested individuals of their right to a competent and independent counsel, they may slapped with a P6,000 fine, jailed from eight to ten years, and be perpetually disqualified from public service.
Aside from these issues, the defense also claimed that the prosecution was unable to solidify allegations that the accused “obstructed, prevented, or prohibited” the complainants from talking with their lawyers, or that the police and military officials conspired with each other.
Right to counsel
The prosecution countered that the complainants were not able to choose their counsel because lawyers outside of Camp Capinpin were not allowed to enter the facility.
They also said that most of the healthcare workers were “first time detainees”, and therefore, they cannot be expected to readily have a counsel of choice”.
The officials are facing eight counts each for violating of Section 4(a) (Penalty Clause) of R.A. 7438 when they arrested the “Morong 43” who were suspected communist rebels.
Reports said that the military found firearms and explosives at a resort in Morong last February 6, 2010, as the Morong 43 were allegedly attending a bomb-making seminar.
The resort owner claimed though that the individuals arrested were attending a training course organized by non-government organization Council for Health Development.
The Commission on Human Rights under former chair and now Senator Leila de Lima said that the 43 healthcare workers were submitted to psychological torture, and were denied the right to counsel despite requests for a lawyer during interrogation. /gsg
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