Abadilla 5 convict dies at hospital
UP TO his last breath, Lenido Lumanog affirmed his innocence in the 1996 killing of a feared military officer during the Marcos dictatorship, retired Col. Rolando Abadilla, for which he and four others were convicted and sentenced to death despite serious doubts about their guilt.
Lumanog, one of the so-called Abadilla 5 convicts, died of cardiac arrest arising from kidney failure on Tuesday at National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) in Quezon City.
Lumanog, who celebrated his 60th birthday on Sept. 2, was talking with his wife, Malou, around 2 a.m. when he gripped her hand tightly and then lost consciousness. “It was very sudden,” Malou told the Inquirer.
A few weeks earlier, Malou said her husband was already showing signs of weakness and was always complaining of back pain at night. Despite his deteriorating condition, she said, her husband remained hopeful that he would be granted pardon by President Duterte.
“He told him (President Duterte) in his letter that he has been suffering for 20 years for a crime he did not commit,” Malou said.
She said one of her husband’s biggest regrets in life was declining the presidential pardon offered by then First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo to the Abadilla 5 in 2003.
Too much faith in system
Her husband reckoned that accepting the offer of presidential pardon was tantamount to admitting the crime of murder, according to Malou, who said the Abadilla 5 had too much faith in the judicial system.
The Abadilla 5 then were confident that the Supreme Court would cite the prosecution’s failure to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt as basis for reversing the verdict handed down on Aug. 11, 1999, by Judge Jaime Salazar of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.
They anchored their hope on the fact that their conviction was based on the uncorroborated testimony of a single eyewitness and the confessions that the police extracted from them through torture. Fingerprints at the crime scene didn’t match theirs; guns seized from them weren’t the ones used in the killing. Police sketches of the gunmen also didn’t match any of them.
In their appeal, the Abadilla 5 also pointed out that Judge Salazar disregarded a statement issued by the communist hit squad, Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB), that the feared colonel was meted out “revolutionary justice … for his blood debts to the people as the harshest berdugo (executioner) of the Marcos dictatorship.”
The hit squad added in its statement that the Abadilla 5 “are mere fall guys [who] have nothing to do with the ABB.”
Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have denounced the torture of the Abadilla 5 and the utter disregard of their rights to due process and fair trial.
Despite widespread local and international support for the Abadilla 5, the Supreme Court, voting 9-4, threw out their motion for reconsideration and affirmed their conviction with finality in 2011.
Fr. Robert Reyes, the so-called “running priest” who has been fighting for the release of the Abadilla 5, said he was “deeply saddened and really angry with the death of Lumanog,” noting that the latter tried everything to prolong his life to prove his innocence.
“He wanted to contribute to the cleansing of our justice system,” said Reyes, who had been regularly visiting Lumanog at NKTI the past three years after the latter showed signs his kidney was failing. He had a kidney failure in 2001 and had a kidney transplant two years later.
The priest said Lumanog kept telling him that he wanted to “experience being a free man even for a day or a week.”
It was to Reyes that the ABB turned over an Omega gold watch which the hit squad had taken from Abadilla during the ambush. Judge Salazar, however, rejected Reyes’ petition to reopen the trial on the basis of this newfound evidence.
At every turn, freedom proved elusive for Lumanog and the four other members of the Abadilla 5, who have been serving their life sentences at New Bilibid Prison.
Aquino rejects pardon
The Board of Pardons and Parole recommended the release of the Abadilla 5 in 2011, while then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima recommended the conditional pardon of the convicts in 2012.
Then President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, however, refused to act on the recommendations for pardon.
Lumanog’s body was still at the NKTI morgue as of Tuesday afternoon. His wife said the body would be brought to the Good Shepherd Cathedral in Fairview, Quezon City, by Wednesday morning.
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