Agusan del Sur court junks charges against 17 activists
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY — A court in Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur has junked charges of destructive arson, kidnapping, and robbery with violence against or intimidation of persons filed against 17 activists supposedly for their involvement in a 2018 harassment by the communist New People’s Army (NPA) on a military patrol base.
In trashing the cases, Presiding Judge Fernando R. Fudalan of the Bayugan City Regional Trial Court Branch 7 also quashed the John Doe warrants that were used to arrest the activists saying these did not contain specific identifying information of the accused such as occupation, appearance, and exact place of residence.
According to lawyer Czarina Golda S. Musni, secretary general of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), Fudalan ruled that the facts and circumstances obtained in the cases led it to believe that the accused had not committed the offenses charged.
“UPLM lauds Judge Fernando R. Fudalan for his judicial probity and courage in ordering the dismissal of the Sibagat cases, thereby according justice to the concerned victims of state harassments and persecution simply for advocating social justice and respect for the right to life and dignity, and ultimately, upholding the rule of law,” Musni said in a statement sent to journalists.
The accused activists were UPLM staff Teresita Naul; Aldeem Yañez, Iglesia Filipina Independiente volunteer staff; Ireneo Udarbe, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Northern Mindanao; Francisco Pagayaman, chairperson of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap-Northern Mindanao; Ophelia Tabacon, coordinator of Alliance of Concerned Teachers-Northern Mindanao; Jomorito Guaynon, chairperson of Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization-Northern Mindanao;
Jerry Basahon, chairperson of Misamis Oriental Farmers Association (MOFA); Gerald Basahon, chairperson of Gingoog Farmers Association; Aida Ibrahim, Karapatan-Northern Mindanao staff; Mylene Coleta, MOFA staff; Hanilyn Cepedes, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP)-Northern Mindanao staff; Ritchel Hilogon, Kalumbay staff; Cecilia Acenas, Community-Based Health Services-Bukidnon staff; Wildon Barros, chairperson of Social Partner in Labor; Reywynx Morgado, radio broadcaster and RMP-Caraga staff; Mujahid Caballero, MOFA staff; and political detainee Vicente Libona.
They were among 555 persons charged for alleged involvement in an NPA attack on an Army patrol base in Barangay Tubigon, Sibagat town, Agusan del Sur on December 19, 2018.
As the NPA rebels fled, they brought along two soldiers, 12 civilian militias, and a haul of firearms and ammunition. The soldiers and militias were eventually released on February 19, 2019.
The court found inadequate the affidavits of the two soldiers and 12 militias captured by the NPA in 2018 saying these simply described the accused with their alleged aliases and erroneous addresses.
The three cases were dismissed on June 10, and a fourth one, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, was dismissed on October 8 for “inordinate delay” with Fudalan upholding the right of the accused to speedy disposition of their cases.
Arrested on March 15, 2020, on the basis of a John Doe warrant, Naul was finally freed on October 26, after one year and seven months of detention at the Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur provincial jail.
The Inquirer learned that Guayanon, Jerry and Gerald Basahon, Coleta, and Libona are still detained at the Misamis Oriental Provincial Jail in Cagayan de Oro City for other cases.
“The dismissal of Sibagat cases based on John Doe warrants and the inordinate delay of proceedings highlight the triumph of truth and justice over the practice of the state of silencing dissent by filing trumped-up charges against activists and rights advocates,” Musni said.
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