Fellow tribesmen vouch for 2 Aeta farmers charged with terrorism
OLONGAPO CITY, Zambales, Philippines — The two Aeta farmers charged with terrorism are “law-abiding” community members in Zambales province, according to fellow tribesmen.
Some members of the Aeta community in San Marcelino town attested to the “innocence” of Japer Gurung, 30, and his brother-in-law, Junior Ramos, 19, in a joint affidavit prepared by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).
NUPL lawyers served as counsels for Gurung and Ramos until the two Aeta men replaced them with those from the Public Attorney’s Office last week.
A Regional Trial Court (RTC) here is hearing the charges of terrorism and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition against Gurung and Ramos, the first known individuals ever to be charged under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
They pleaded not guilty during their arraignment last September.
“In our culture as indigenous people, we frown upon the acts of lying in everything we do,” said the affidavit signed by four Aeta elders on Sept. 7, 2020, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer on Feb. 9.
Gurung had always been visible in their community as he used to work at his farm every day, they said.
“We know that our supreme being, Apo Namalyari, is looking down upon us so we have to be very candid and always be true to our pronouncement, otherwise he will cast upon us as unimaginable sufferings,” they said. Apo Namalyari is their deity or protector.
Gurung and Ramos, along with their wives, were arrested on Aug. 21 last year. The wives, both minors, were taken to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
According to the Aeta elders, Ramos and his wife were out in the farm and had nothing to do with the New People’s Army (NPA) when fighting between Army soldiers and rebels broke out at the other side of their community.
But the Army insisted the two men and their wives were present during the clash that killed a soldier.
NUPL said Gurung and Ramos were restrained and subjected to interrogation for six days while in Army custody. They repeatedly denied being NPA members and they were manhandled, the group said.
On Thursday, during the continuation of hearings at RTC Branch 92 presided by Judge Melani Fay Tadali, Lt. Fritz Entoma, platoon leader of the Army’s 73rd Division Reconnaissance Company, claimed the two Aetas were among the rebels who fired at them.
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