QC court: Army illegally jailed ‘NPA rebel’ for over 11 years
A QUEZON City court on Thursday ruled that a peasant leader had been “illegally deprived of his liberty” for more than 11 years, saying the military failed to prove that he was the communist rebel charged for the 2003 ambush of Army soldiers in Oriental Mindoro.
The lawyers and supporters of Eduardo Serrano, 62, shed tears and embraced him after the judge read the decision resolving the issue of his identity. Among those applauding the ruling was Andrea Rosal, another suspected rebel recently cleared of a murder charge and released from jail.
“The court finds (Serrano), who stands charged before this court, not the same Rogelio Villanueva alias ‘Ka Macling’ … who is the accused in the above information,” said Judge Marilou Runes-Tamang of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 98.
The case of multiple murder, frustrated murder and robbery that the military filed in connection with the 2003 Mindoro ambush was archived since none of the 68 accused—whose names were taken from the military’s Order of Battle—has been arrested.
Tamang ordered the immediate release of Serrano “unless detained from some other lawful causes.”
According to Serrano’s counsel, Amylyn Sato of the Public Interest Law Center, her client could not yet be released since he was still on trial for three more cases as Rogelio Villanueva, whom military maintained to be a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).
“We will discuss what to do next. We could manifest in the other cases this finding that he’s not really Villanueva,” Sato told the Inquirer.
She said her legal team was able to pursue the issue of Serrano’s identity in the Mindoro ambush case because he hadn’t been arraigned for this, unlike in the other cases that were already on the trial stage when her team took over.
Tamang, who took over the case from another judge in June, noted the length of time that Serrano’s case had been pending in court “with the issue of identity still unresolved to the great prejudice of the
The “unjustified insertion” of Serrano’s name in the commitment order issued in 2004 by Judge Tomas Leynes of Calapan (Oriental Mindoro) RTC Branch 40 only after Serrano was arrested without a warrant was “too pathetic,” Tamang said in her order.
“It is an outright mockery of the basic human right on due process of law which is enshrined in our Constitution,” Tamang said. “The representatives of the State miserably failed its primary duty to identify the identity of the accused at the cost of horror of Serrano being prosecuted for 11 bygone years.”
Prosecution witnesses, who appeared for the first time since the case was transferred to the QC court eight years ago, failed to provide “any iota of connection between Serrano and the crime charged in the information,” she added.
During last week’s hearing, the judge asked the complainant Army officers how they got the names of the 68 accused when they were not mentioned in any affidavit of the witnesses.
The court ruling recalled that, according to Army Major Alex Dalingay Ampati, the names of the accused “were taken from their Order of Battle and admitted that whenever an ambush in the area where he is assigned takes place, the act is, more often considered as an NPA-related activity.” Ampati was the former commander of Bravo Company of the 68th Infantry Battalion.
“As much as this court sympathizes with the family of the victims of perished Army officers, this court has the duty to undo Serrano’s dire fate,” the judge said.
But Tamang explained that her order was not a judgment on Serrano’s guilt or innocence. “Should the government opt to prosecute Serrano, it must pursue the proper remedies against him as provided in the rules.”
The QC RTC ruling was in compliance with a July 2015 order from the Court of Appeals, where the defense earlier raised the matter of Serrano’s identity.
Serrano’s three other cases—for multiple murder, frustrated murder and kidnap for ransom—are pending in different QC-RTC branches after being transferred from Mindoro courts.
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