CA dismisses Arroyo plea to stop P5.4M suit over extra-judicial killings
MANILA, Philippines — The Court of Appeals dismissed the petition of Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to stop the Quezon City regional trial court from proceeding with the P5.4-million civil suit filed against her by a Protestant over the extrajudicial killings of clergymen and church workers and the disappearance of a pastor during her term as President.
In a 16-page decision, the appellate court’s Seventh Division affirmed the QCRTC’s denial last January of Ms Arroyo’s motion to dismiss the civil suit filed by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines for the extrajudicial killings of three pastors and two members, and the abduction of another pastor, all taking place from 2003 to 2006.
“Clearly, the RTC’s denial of petitioner’s motion to dismiss and motion for reconsideration, were neither whimsical nor capricious. Petitioner, in praying for the issuance of the writ of certiorari, has failed to discharge the burden of proving grave abuse of discretion on the part of the RTC in accord with the definition and standards set by law and jurisprudence,” the court said in the decision written by Justice Victoria Isabel Paredes.
In the civil suit filed in June 2011 suit, the UCCP, represented by its general secretary Bishop Reuel Marigza, together with Pastor Berlin Guerrero and the family members of the slain clergymen and church members, claimed Ms Arroyo was liable for civil damages as she failed “either by commission or omission, either by manifest negligence or by culpable acts” to fulfill her duties as president and commander-in-chief.
The complainants blamed Oplan Bantay Laya, a counter-insurgency operation launched during Ms Arroyo’s term, for including the UCCP among the civil society and and church organizations identified as front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and thus, targets for neutralization by the military.
In the course of the implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya, Marigza said several pastors, leaders and members were either liquidated, harassed, unlawfully detained, or tortured by alleged military agents who were under her control and command responsibility.
In its ruling, the Court of Appeals said the RTC did not commit grave abuse of discretion when it denied Mrs. Arroyo’s motion to dismiss on the ground that the complaint failed to state a cause of action against her as it did not contain any sufficient allegation about her actual role in Oplan Bantay Laya.
Ms Arroyo also claimed that the UCCP lacked the cause of action against her on the ground that there was “damnum absque injuria” (loss without injury); that the complaint is a suit against the State; and the UCCP leaders do not have any cause of action for any alleged act on her part in the performance of her official duties as president and commander-in-chief.
The Court of Appeals, however, disagreed. It said that based on its reading of the complaint, the UCCP was able to sufficiently state a cause of action, namely that victims of extrajudicial killings, who were members of the UCCP and family members of its leaders, have a right against forcible abduction, illegal arrests, detention and torture; that it was Ms Arroyo’s duty to respect such right when she was chief executive; and that she violated such right when she ordered the implementation of OBL, which led to the extrajudicial killings, disappearances and other illegal acts.
“Since it is apparent that evidence has yet to be presented before the RTC and any question of fact resolved through stipulations, the RTC’s denial of the motion to dismiss on the ground of lack of cause of action was proper,” the appeals court said.
The court added that Ms Arroyo’s defenses can be passed upon and threshed out in a full-blown trial on the merits and not in a motion to dismiss.
The slain church workers were pastors Edison Lapuz, Raul Domingo and Andy Pawican and members Joel Baclao and Noel Capulong.
Baclao, a coordinator of the UCCP disaster relief program and of the militant church workers group, Promotion for Church People’s Response, was shot by a gunman in Daraga, Albay in November 2004. Pastor Lapuz was shot dead in San Isidro, Leyte in May 2005 after coming from a funeral.
Domingo, a pastor and secretary-general of the human rights group Karapatan in Palawan, was killed in August 2005. Pawican, another pastor, was found dead on a roadside a few days after accompanying a group of alleged soldiers in Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija, in May 2006. Capulong was driving his jeep in Calamba City, Laguna, when he was shot dead by bonnet-wearing, motorcycle-riding men the same month.
Guerrero was abducted just outside the local UCCP chapel in Biñan City, Laguna, after a worship service in May 2007. He claimed he was brought to a military facility and tortured by soldiers before being turned over to the police. SFM
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