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Agusan court junks charges vs 17 activists

/ 05:00 AM December 04, 2021

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 for their alleged involvement in a 2018 attack by the New People’s Army (NPA) on a military patrol base in Sibagat town of the province.

In trashing the cases, Judge Fernando 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.

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Lawyer Czarina Golda Musni, secretary general of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), said in a statement Thursday that Fudalan ruled that the facts and circumstances presented in the cases led the court to believe that the accused did not commit the offenses they were charged with.

She said the UPLM lauded Fudalan for showing “judicial probity” and for “upholding the rule of law” by dismissing the Sibagat cases.

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The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) in Northern Mindanao, in a separate statement, also welcomed the dismissal of cases against the activists, one of whom was Ophelia Tabacon, ACT coordinator in the region.

New win

“We welcome this new win not only for teacher Ophel, but also for our struggle for rights and democracy,” the group said.

ACT said Tabacon had to file for an early retirement from her teaching job after being unable to perform her duties because of fear for her security.

She was also subjected to harassment, Red-tagging and other attacks, forcing her to move away from her six children, one of whom has special needs, it added.

“Justice must be served to teacher Ophel and her children who have been subjected to unwarranted economic, emotional and psychological sufferings by the state,” said Raymond Basilio, ACT secretary general.

Accused

The other accused activists were UPLM staff Teresita Naul; Aldeem Yañez, Iglesia Filipina Independiente volunteer staff; Ireneo Udarbe, chair of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Northern Mindanao; Francisco Pagayaman, chair of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap-Northern Mindanao; Jomorito Goaynon, chair of Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization-Northern Mindanao; Jerry Basahon, chair of Misamis Oriental Farmers Association (Mofa); Gerald Basahon, chair 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, chair 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 with supposed involvement in an NPA attack on an Army patrol base in Barangay Tubigon, Sibagat, on Dec. 19, 2018.

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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 freed on Feb. 19, 2019.

Inadequate

The court found inadequate the affidavits of the two soldiers and 12 militias captured by the NPA in 2018, as these only described the accused with their alleged aliases and erroneous addresses.

The three cases were dismissed on June 10, while the fourth—kidnapping and serious illegal detention—was dismissed on Oct. 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 Oct. 26 after one year and seven months of detention at the Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur, provincial jail.

The Inquirer learned that Goaynon, 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. —REPORTS FROM JIGGER JERUSALEM, JANE BAUTISTA AND RYAN ROSAURO

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TAGS: Activist, Agusan del Sur, charges, NPA
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