Cops, Army men in ‘Morong 43’ arrest cleared
The Sandiganbayan has dismissed the charges against seven police officers behind the February 2010 arrest of 43 health workers in Morong, Rizal.
The antigraft court granted the demurrer to evidence of Army generals Jorge Segovia, Aurelio Baladad, Joselito Reyes and Cristobal Zaragoza, and Patrolmen Marion Balonglong, Allan Nobleza and Jovily Cabading, and ruled that the prosecution failed to prove that the arrested health workers were denied access to their “lawyers of choice.”
The accused were earlier charged with violating Republic Act No. 7437, or the Rights of Persons Arrested, Detained or Under Custodial Investigation, but since their demurrer was granted, the case has been dropped.
The 43 health workers were arrested for allegedly conducting an explosives training in Morong, Rizal. They were also tagged as communist rebels.
In a 39-page decision promulgated on July 1, but released to the media on Friday, the antigraft court ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove a key element of the crime.
The demurrer of the accused was granted because the court said the human rights lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), who were barred from seeing the detained health workers, were not proven to be the lawyers of choice.
According to the law, a detained person should not be denied access to “any lawyer, any member of the immediate family of a person arrested, detained or under custodial investigation, or any medical doctor or priest or religious minister chosen by him.”
Immediately after the arrest of the health workers, collectively known as “Morong 43,” the NUPL claimed their members were turned away by the accused officers when they tried to confer with the detainees.
But in the decision, the court said the prosecution failed to prove that the NUPL lawyers were the detained health workers’ chosen legal counsel.
In the decision penned by Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses and concurred with by Associate Justices Maria Theresa Dolores Gomez Estoesta and Georgina Hidalgo, the antigraft court said none of the Morong 43 testified that they already had a counsel of choice at the time of their arrest and detention.
Edre Olalia, NUPL president, said the lawyers’ group was frustrated about the court’s decision to dismiss the case against the Army and police officers.
Indication of impunity
“We cannot help but feel frustrated that a matter of reality such as our being counsel to them from Day One, which in fact practically everybody knows, can be obliterated by the legal fiction that we were supposedly not their counsel of choice to start with,” Olalia said in a statement.
Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights has also decried the Sandiganbayan decision to acquit the seven law enforcers for the illegal arrest and detention charges of the Morong 43.
Karapatan deputy secretary general Roneo Clamor on Friday said the decision of the 7th Division of the Sandiganbayan was a stark indication of impunity, “despite strong evidence and testimonies” of the petitioners.
Clamor, husband of doctor Merry Mia of Morong 43, had also testified in the court proceedings.
In his testimony, Clamor said the health workers asserted that they were tortured, illegally arrested in Morong, Rizal province, and detained for 10 months.
“They were blindfolded, handcuffed and deprived of sleep and rest. They were subjected to relentless interrogation, threats and intimidation,” Clamor said.
“Some of them received beatings from their captors. They were subjected to humiliation when the soldiers refused to give them privacy when they used comfort rooms,” he said.
His wife and 42 other health workers, he said, were told to admit the trumped-up charges against them “because their lawyers, families and organizations have abandoned them.”
The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Friday welcomed the Sandiganbayan decision, saying truth has always been on the side of the beleaguered government enforcers.
In a statement, Col. Noel Detoyato, the AFP public affairs office chief, expressed hope the court decision would inspire officers and men of the police and military to remain true to their calling while fighting supposed “selfish agenda” of the communist movement. —WITH A REPORT FROM MELVIN GASCON
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