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Case of traveling skeletons: Manila Court acquits peace consultants of murder

/ 02:00 PM December 18, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—A Manila court has resolved the case of “ghosts” crying for justice and “traveling skeletons” as it dismisses the murder charges against the supposed members of the communist group responsible for their death.

In a 97-page decision, Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 32 has granted the demurrers to evidence filed by former lawmaker Satur Ocampo, National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant Rafael Baylosis and Adelberto Silva; farmers Norberto Murillo, Dario Tomada, and Oscar Belleza; Exuperio Lloren and another demurrer filed by Vicente Ladlad.

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A demurrer to evidence is in effect a motion to dismiss anchored on the ground that the evidence presented is insufficient.

The court also dismissed the 15 counts of murder against the following couple Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, Lino Salazar, Presillano Beringel, Luzviminda Orillo, Muco Lubong, and Felix Dumali.

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Those in detention are ordered released unless being held for a separate case.

Ghost calling from the grave

The case started in 2006 when a member of the 43rd Infantry Battalion heard “some noises, shouting and drumbeating” while resting in a hammock at the Tactical Command Post in Barangay Kaulisihan, Inopacan, Leyte.

The following day, while doing clearing operations, the Battalion member chanced upon farmer Floro Tanaid and asked him about the noise. Tanaid told him that the noise could have come from the souls of the people executed by members of the New Peoples’ Army in Sapang Dako.

Since the area is still within their jurisdiction, the soldier sought the help of Tanaid to check the place where the noise came from and did some digging. They eventually dug up a “long bone.” After getting the go signal from their commander, they had several diggings and discovered several skeletal remains believed to be of the 15 people executed by the NPA during the 80s.

During the trial, the court noted the inconsistencies in the testimonies of witnesses such as Tanaid, the guide who claimed that the military went to his house on Aug. 25, 2006, and sought his help in locating the mass grave while the military witness claimed he heard the noises only on Aug. 25, 2006. In meeting Tanaid, the witness said he “chanced upon him.”

On the other hand, the forensic pathologist from the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory Dr. Mamerto Bernabe admitted that upon examination of the skeletal remains, he did not conclusively identify any of the bones as belonging to a particular person.

Another witness from the PNP, PCI Jasper Magana said that while they were able to get buccal swabs from a list of persons provided by the military, by the time the PNP has the technology to generate DNA profiles from skeletal remains, “the prosecution did not bother to coordinate…to cause the DNA examination.”

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The traveling skeleton

Lawyers of the accused said that the skeletal remains were the subject of a similar case which was previously dismissed by the Baybay, Leyte Regional Trial Court. The skeletons were discovered in June 2000, in Barangay Monterico, Baybay, Leyte. Supposedly, the skeletons were that of Concepcion Aragon, Juanita Aviola, and Gregorio Eras, the same victims whose skeletons were also dug up in Inopacan, Leyte six years after.

A relative of one of the victims admitted participating in the diggings in Baybay, Leyte. The same witness said, “he does not know how  the then members of the 43rd Infantry Battalion were able to identify the skeletal remains of his father and brothers despite him not being able to identify them at that time.”

“Of course, logic dictates that these eventualities cannot or are impossible to happen unless these skeletal remains, as conjured by the defense, were exhumed in one place and thereafter, transferred and/or buried in another,” the court said.

“And despite the fact that this obvious inconceivability came up during the presentation of its evidence, the prosecution did not bother to clear this up by adducing evidence to elucidate these apparent improbable scenarios,” the court added.

Aside from the absence of forensic evidence, no other document was presented such as a death certificate or declaration of presumptive death. The court also noted that the testimonies of the witnesses are “palpably unreliable” due to “overwhelmingly numerous” contradictions.

The court said because the “prosecution miserably failed to establish the guilt of accused-movants beyond reasonable doubt for the 15 counts of murder filed against them and thus they deserve a verdict of acquittal.”

Reactions

Atty. Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) welcomes the Manila Court’s ruling.

“It is time to right the wrong already,” Olalia said.

PILC, on the other hand, said they are inspired by the court’s call for lasting peace.

In concluding her order, Presiding Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medica said: “For no matter how some romanticize and/or philosophize that there is beauty in chaos and there is such thing as a necessary evil, this Court finds that where peace and harmony reign is still the best place we could ever be.”

“We could not agree more,” PILC said in a statement.

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Manila court orders arrest of CPP’s Joma, 37 others over 80s ‘purge’

Red leaders arraigned for 1980s ‘purge’ killings 

Court told to proceed with hearing of murder case vs Satur Ocampo, et al.

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TAGS: communist, Inopacan, Leyte, Murder, NPA, purge, Traveling skeleton
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