Court junks rebellion raps vs 7 activists
BAGUIO CITY—A Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Abra province on Thursday cleared seven activists from a rebellion charge after finding insufficient grounds to include them in the case filed by state prosecutors in January.
In a two-page order, Judge Corpus Alzate of RTC Branch 2 in Bangued granted the motion to quash the rebellion charge filed against Jennifer Awingan, an indigenous peoples’ rights activist and researcher for the Baguio-based progressive Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), and Windel Bolinget and Steve Tauli, CPA chair and regional council member, respectively.
Also cleared from the charge were development worker Sarah Abellon; peasant activist Lourdes Gimenez; Florence Kang of the Ilocos Center for Research, Empowerment and Development; and Niño Oconer, a correspondent for the online news portal Northern Dispatch.
Awingan was arrested on Jan. 30 after Alzate issued a warrant against her and the six other accused. Alzate eventually allowed the accused to post bail at P100,000 each.
In dismissing the rebellion charge, Alzate questioned the validity of the information on the complaint lodged at Abra’s prosecutor’s office by Army soldiers on Jan. 3 that accused the activists of “overthrowing the government.”
The charges stemmed from allegations that the seven activists and two alleged members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) were involved in an ambush in Abra’s Malibcong town on Oct. 27 last year that left two government soldiers dead.
The two were among four Army soldiers bound for Abra’s Baay-Licuan town to assist victims of the magnitude 6.4 earthquake that hit the province two days earlier. Killed in the ambush were Privates First Class (Pfc) Ariz Bautista and Jimmy Viernes of the 24th Infantry Battalion, 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.
State prosecutors claimed that Pfc. Reymond Galo and Pfc. Randy Cinco, who survived the ambush, recognized in an NPA “rogue gallery” two of the alleged attackers as Jovencio Tangbawan and Salcedo Dumayom Dappay.
The rebellion charge included the seven activists for being alleged officers of the rebel unit to which Tangbawan and Dappay belonged.
But the prosecution failed to challenge the motion to quash jointly filed by the activists’ legal counsels, who argued that the accused were implicated in the case by the “mere accusation” of the army and police that they were high-ranking communist leaders.
In his order, Alzate agreed with the lawyers of the seven activists that the accused were never identified by the survivors of the ambush.
The judge ordered the seven to be excluded from the information filed and canceled all warrants of arrest issued against them in connection to the rebellion case.
“The decision of the trial court is but another knot in the long line of similar fabricated cases filed against activists and eventually dismissed because they are that—fabrications,” Baguio lawyer Rene Cortes, one of the counsels for the seven, told the Inquirer.
According to Cortes, instead of “wasting resources” on forging bogus cases, the government should “focus its efforts on curbing the rampant corruption and abuses perpetrated by government officials.”
While the state prosecutors have the option to appeal the decision, Cortes said he was confident that it would be denied since “there is not even a strand of evidence to link” the activists to the armed encounter.
Bolinget said he was hoping that all other “trumped-up” charges against his fellow activists would be dismissed.
He and 10 others were charged with murder in 2020 for the death of a member of the indigenous Lumad community in 2018, but the case was eventually dismissed.
Ronald Taggaoa, husband of Awingan, expressed gratitude over the speedy resolution of the rebellion case against the seven activists.
“It is our fervent prayer that Red-tagging, political vilification and other kinds of political harassment be stopped,” Taggaoa said in a statement.