In fairness

By Tonyo Cruz

Once upon a time, specifically on July 18, 2008, a judge ruled that warrants of arrest cannot be legally issued against four persons accused of murder.

The judge said there was no probable cause for her to do that.

And she was right, as any lawyer or even a casual observer who would check out the facts of the case would tell you.

For one, the public prosecutors did not even meet the complainants, and they did not have the complainants subscribe to the veracity of the claims they made in their affidavits — an important requirement under the Rules of Court and Supreme Court jurisprudence so as not to waste the precious time of prosecutors and judges, and to prevent injustice against the falsely accused.

More importantly, the claims in the affidavits of so-called witnesses were unbelievable and fantastic — and identical and sounded so much alike that any person would quickly conclude that they could have been written by just one person who could have been high on drugs.

There were other problems. One the alleged victims of the “murders” turned out to be a victim of a hit-and-run incident. The confessed hitman admitted to have hit the victim’s motorcycle, throwing the victim into the path of an approaching vehicle that hit and killed him.

The confession of the so-called “hitman” was also written two years after the incident, and had many obvious inconsistencies that don’t match with those of eyewitnesses and official reports.

Finally, the testimonies of the four witnesses in the murder case had been rejected in other courts for oddly similar cases.

Fast-forward to July, 2018, or ten years later, the same judge changed her mind. She ordered the issuance of arrest warrants based on the same evidence presented by complainants and discredited witnesses.

I’m referring here to the arrest warrants issued last month by Judge Evelyn A. Atienza Turla of the Palayan Regional Trial Court in Nueva Ecija against former Makabayan lawmakers Rafael Mariano (Anakpawis), Liza Maza (Gabriela), and Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casino (both from Bayan Muna).

Together with Anakpawis Rep. Crispin Beltran and Bayan Muna Rep. Joel Virador, they comprised the so-called Batasan 6 in 2006 for being the target of then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s legal offensive against her critics. (Beltran was arrested and detained, while the five other were granted protective custody by the House of Representatives.)

The Palayan case is one of the cases that date back to that time of the Arroyo regime, and that were instigated by the Department of Justice and the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group.

Arroyo was furious at the Batasan 6 for endorsing impeachment complaints against her, for initiating investigations into her presidency, and for helping lead mass demonstrations.

None of the cases against them prospered after they were exposed in free, fair, and open proceedings.

Lead counsel Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center points out that:

“The Comelec in June, 2007, ruled against a petition for cancellation of registration of Bayan Muna partylist because the petition was based on “unsubstantiated statements.”

“The Supreme Court and RTC Makati Branch 150 in July, 2007, dismissed rebellion charges, hinged on the same evidence, for prosecutorial misconduct.

“The RTC Guimba, Nueva Ecija,  Branch 31 in August, 2008, dismissed a murder charge, based on the same affidavits, for failure to establish the participation of our clients in the alleged conspiracy.

“The RTC Quezon City Branch 95 in June, 2016, granted damages to Bayan Muna and Ocampo because the widows Bayudang and Peralta, Sinohin, and Princillo made unsubstantiated accusations and false statements against them before the Comelec (in 2007).”

The same complainants and witnesses, and the same discredited stories are behind the Palayan case.

It is important to remember what the Supreme Court said in its ruling on June 1, 2007, dismissing one of the cases filed against Makabayan lawmakers.

The court said: “The obvious involvement of political considerations in the actuations of respondent Secretary of Justice and respondent prosecutors brings to mind an observation we made in another equally politically charged case. We reiterate what we stated then, if only to emphasize the importance of maintaining the integrity of criminal prosecutions in general and preliminary investigations in particular, thus:

“e cannot emphasize too strongly that prosecutors should not allow, and should avoid, giving the impression that their noble office is being used or prostituted, wittingly or unwittingly, for political ends, or other purposes alien to, or subversive of, the basic and fundamental objective of observing the interest of justice evenhandedly, without fear or favor to any and all litigants alike, whether rich or poor, weak or strong, powerless or mighty. Only by strict adherence to the established procedure may be public’s perception of the impartiality of the prosecutor be enhanced.”

Not all of us may subscribe to the progressive politics pushed by Maza, Mariano, Ocampo, and Casino, but all of us could agree on the role of political dissent and the principle of justice. Their progressive and dissenting voices at this time of the Duterte-Arroyo-Marcos ruling regime should not and cannot be muffled and silenced by a concocted and politically motivated case.