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Arraignment of Morong 43 generals reset

/ 05:55 AM June 30, 2017

The Sandiganbayan has postponed to July 31 the arraignment of the Army and police generals accused of depriving the so-called Morong 43 health workers of their right to legal counsel.

The scheduled arraignment was canceled on Thursday, pending the resolution of the defendants’ appeal seeking the dismissal of their cases.

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The defendants include: retired Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia, retired Maj. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, Brig. Gen. Joselito Reyes, Col. Cristobal Zaragoza, Police Supt. Marion Balonglong, Police Supt. Allan Nobleza and Police Chief Insp. Jovily Cabading.

The National Union of People’s Lawyers said the officers were resorting to legal tactics to avoid trial, even as they allegedly taunted the Morong 43 that “there is no law and your lawyers cannot protect you as we are the law.”

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“Now, finally facing criminal charges for such audacious bravado, the military and police including top generals now promoted or retired, are now saying that they will not show up at their trial as they are still squeezing dry all imaginable legal moves and hypocritically invoking the law to achieve impunity,” said Edre Olalia, president of the lawyer’s group, which had initiated the complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman.

The court’s Seventh Division on June 7 denied the motion to quash filed by the defendants and affirmed the validity of the charges filed by the Office of the Ombudsman. The arraignment had to be postponed, after the officers filed an 11-page motion for reconsideration on June 27.

The said appeal reiterated that the informations for eight counts of violation of Republic Act No. 7438, the law governing the rights of detained persons, were invalid for charging more than one offense.

The prosecution captioned the charge sheets as violations of Section 4(a) of the said law, which penalizes the failure to inform the arrested person of his Miranda rights (the right to remain silent and have a competent lawyer).

But the recital of the allegations pointed to violations of Section 4(b) of the law, which prohibits authorities from keeping the detainee from conferring with a lawyer, a relative, a doctor or a spiritual adviser.

The defendants took exception to the court’s pronouncement that the prosecution could correct the caption of the information to state instead the violation of Section 4(b) of the law.

The motion said the allegations would still contain elements of both offenses because the defendants were accused of failing to provide the Morong 43 with a counsel if they could not afford one.

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The officers also insisted that their right to the speedy disposition of their cases was violated because the Ombudsman’s preliminary investigation of the case allegedly took more than seven years—not to mention the “intense media scrutiny” that came even before the informations reached the Sandiganbayan.

The generals were represented by lawyers Antonio Pido, Daryll Matthew Santos, Jonalyn Porquez and Dhan Morris Samson of the Siguion Reyna, Montecillo & Ongsiako Law Offices.

The case arose from the controversial arrest of the health workers whom the military claimed were communist cadres conducting explosives training in a house in Morong, Rizal province. The detainees went on hunger strike in protest of their alleged illegal detention, and claimed to be tortured, threatened, deprived of sleep and framed with planted evidence.

On Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, 2010, former President Benigno Aquino III ordered the Department of Justice to drop what critics claimed to be trumped-up charges of breaking the firearms law. This paved the way for the detainees’ release.

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