Davao court junks murder rap vs Baguio activist
BAGUIO CITY—A court in Davao del Norte province has dismissed a murder case filed by the police last year against a Baguio-based activist in connection with the killing of another activist in 2018.
Windel Bolinget, chair of the militant Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), told the Inquirer that Judge Sharon Rose Saracen of Tagum City Regional Trial Court Branch 30 threw out the murder case against him and five other activists on July 12. The case was filed in August 2020.
Bolinget said the judge acted on the recommendation of a local prosecutor who found no probable cause to implicate him and the others in the killing of Garito Tiklonay Malibato.
A “lumad” (indigenous) activist, Malibato was abducted and shot dead on March 21, 2018, in Kapalong town, Davao del Norte.
Saracen also dismissed the murder charges against Albert Mandin, Lutgardo Jurcales Jr., Jacky Valencia, Agnes Mesina and Reynaldo Gareng, citing the report on reinvestigation submitted by the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor in Tagum.
“The dismissal of my case is proof that what the police and this tyrant government had filed was based on fabricated evidence,” Bolinget said in an interview on Wednesday.
“But while my case has been dismissed, there are so many more innocent people who have been killed or jailed. Hence, we continue the call for the release of political prisoners,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
In a statement, CPA described the dismissal of the case as “a significant victory” in its campaign to stop the attacks on indigenous peoples “who remain vocal against the atrocities committed by the Duterte regime.”
Bolinget said he had consulted lawyers on the possibility of pursuing “appropriate cases against the police and abusive government officials.”
“We have to expose and stop these laboratories of trumped-up cases to end impunity. Our cases were dismissed, but our incarceration has been done, and our families and organizations have been attacked,” he said.
Bolinget said he was defended by Davao lawyers who assisted his lead counsel, human rights lawyer Jose Molintas.
He said he was grateful to lawyer Hector Geologo, director of the National Bureau of Investigation in the Cordillera, who placed him under the agency’s custody because of a supposed “shoot-to-kill” order should he resist arrest.
Bolinget has denied having been in Davao del Norte, or anywhere in Mindanao in 2018.
“I am not a murderer as alleged by this fabricated case. I am not a resident of Kapalong, Davao del Norte, as falsely claimed in this trumped-up case,” he has said in a statement posted on the CPA website.
Bolinget went into hiding last December after the Philippine National Police in the Cordillera received an order for his arrest, which was based on the arrest warrant issued against him and the five other activists on Sept. 25, 2020, by Judge Saracen.
He decided to surface on Jan. 21 and sought protection from the NBI two days after the Cordillera police supposedly issued the “shoot-to-kill” order against him.
Bolinget’s case drew condemnation from local and international rights groups, including the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which called for the dropping of the charge against him.
“From information we have received, Mr Windel Bolinget has been falsely accused of being implicated in a murder of an indigenous leader in a province he has never even been to,” Mary Lawlor, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said in a statement posted on the UNHRC website on Jan. 28.
“It is believed to be a fabricated charge aimed at silencing him and other indigenous rights defenders, and the charge should be dropped,” Lawlor said.
In her July 12 order, Saracen said the case would be archived because the five other defendants she had ordered arrested were still at large, including Simon Naogsan also known as “Ka Filiw,” who has allegedly served as spokesperson for the communist New People’s Army in the Cordillera.
Bolinget said he and his colleagues were hoping that the International Criminal Court would pursue its inquiry into President Duterte’s war against drugs that has claimed thousands of lives. “We continue the call #DuterteWakasan (End Duterte) and are hoping that the International Criminal Court investigation would push through. We will contribute to the collective effort of the opposition to win against Duterte for regime change,” he said.