CA affirms reclusion perpetua sentences on Rizal Day bombers
MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals has affirmed the guilty verdict handed down by a Manila court against three alleged members of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah responsible for the Dec. 30, 2000 bombing of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) that killed 11 people and injured 19 others.
In a 56-page decision, the appellate court’s 7th Division rejected the alibi of the convicted-appellants Mukhlis Hadji Umpara Yunos (a.k.a. as Hadji Onos, Moklis, Muklis and Mocles), Zainal Paks (a.k.a. Paks and Mamasao Gaon Naga), and Mohamad Amir (a.k.a. Amir, Abdul Fatak Paute), that they were in their respective hometowns when the bombing took place.
On Jan. 23, 2009, the Manila regional trial court Branch 29 convicted the three of multiple murder, multiple frustrated murder, and multiple attempted murder and sentenced them to reclusion perpetua.
The appellate court, however, modified the RTC’s decision with regard to the damages to be paid to the heirs of the victims. From the original P125,000, the Court of Appeals directed the three to pay a total of P175,000 as civil indemnity and moral and exemplary damages to the heirs of each of the 11 fatalities in the bombing.
It also ordered that the three separately pay the four surviving victims the amount of P50,000 as damages; and P50,000 to three other victims as moral damages.
Appellate court division members Justices Danton Bueser, Rosmari Carandang and Ricardo Rosario gave weight to the testimonies of prosecution witnesses led by Cusain Ramos, who confessed to helping the three and other cohorts in procuring explosives that were used in the bombing, and Anna Marie Velasquez, one of the surviving victims.
Yunos was arrested on May 25, 2003 at the Cagayan de Oro City airport while attempting to flee with the help of an Egyptian missionary; while Paks and Amir were both arrested in Marawi City on August 2004 while on their way to Lanao del Sur.
Yunos claimed that he could not have been the suspected bomber because he did not fit the description given by witnesses immediately after the bombing. He also described as “highly suggestive and improper” and the photo and police lineups conducted by authorities.
The Court of Appeals ruled that even if there were an improper out-of-court identification of the accused, it was already “cured” after Velasquez testified in court and identified him as one of the bombers.
“When the credibility of the witnesses is at issue, appellate courts will not disturb the findings of the trial court, the latter being in a better position to decide the question, having heard the witnesses and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial,” it said.
Ramos’ credibility was also questioned by the accused on that ground that his testimony was “inconsistent, full of lies, and uncorroborated.”
But the court noted that Ramos could only have been compelled to tell the truth since he had nothing to gain in testifying against the three and even put the lives of his own family in danger.
“Human experience tells us that a person, in the absence of a showing of any ill-motive, would not impute grave crime upon another unless the same is true,” the court said, adding that though there were inconsistencies on the Ramos’ testimony, these were not enough for the trial court to disregard his entire testimony.
“It has been held, time and again, that alibi, as a defense, is inherently weak and crumbles in the light of positive identification by truthful witnesses. It is evidence negative in nature and self-serving and cannot attain more credibility than the testimonies of prosecution witnesses who testify on clear and positive evidence,” it explained.
The government theory was that the bombings were supposedly perpetrated by elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation front with the assistance of the Jemaah Islamiyah, in retaliation for the government’s attack on the MILF’s Camp Abubakar.
Another accused, Fathur Al-Ghozi, was arrested on Jan. 15, 2002. He allegedly executed statements admitting to his guilt but later escaped detention and was killed in an encounter.
The bombing of the LRT Blumentritt Station in Sta. Cruz, Manila was only one of five that took place the same day, while the country was observing Rizal Day.
The other bombings took place at Plaza Ferguson in front of the United States Embassy, in Manila, the parking lot of the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City, the fuel depot of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City, and a bus plying Edsa in Cubao, Quezon City.
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