By Czarina Nicole Ong-Ki
The Sandiganbayan Seventh Division has allowed the seven army and police officials reportedly involved in the illegal detention of the Morong 43 health workers to challenge the prosecution’s evidence against them.
The anti-graft court granted their motion for leave to file demurrer to evidence, and they were given a non-extendible period of 10 days from receipt of the order to file it.
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 are facing charges for violating the law that defines the rights of persons arrested, detained or under custodial investigation.
They have been slapped with eight charges in violation of Section 4(a) and 4(b) of R.A. 7438, which is an act defining certain rights of person arrested, detained or under custodial investigation as well as the duties of the arresting officers.
Section 4(a) requires arresting officers to inform detained individuals of their Miranda rights, while Section 4(b) does not allow officials to keep detained individuals from conferring with his or her lawyer, relative, doctor, or even a spiritual adviser.
The Morong 43 health workers were arrested back in February 2010, since officials claimed they were conducting explosives training in a house in Morong, Rizal. The Morong 43 health workers subsequently went on a hunger strike because the accused officials reportedly tortured, threatened, and deprived them of sleep. They also said the evidence used against them was planted.
In their motion, the defendants prayed for leave to file demurrer, which is an act contesting that the prosecution’s evidence is insufficient to establish their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
They argued that the prosecution failed to prove that any of them obstructed, prevented, or prohibited the complainants’ alleged lawyer of choice from conferring with them during their detention.
They added that there was no proof they acted in conspiracy and that they are guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the offense charged in the Information.
For its part, the anti-graft court agreed. “After carefully reviewing accused’s motion for leave and the prosecution’s evidence, and further finding the issues and arguments relied by accused to be substantial and not merely to delay the proceedings, the court resolves to grant the same,” the resolution stated.
The four-page resolution was penned by Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses with the concurrence of Chairperson Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta and Associate Justice Georgina Hidalgo.
If the court grants the defendants’ demurrer, then their case would be dismissed. If not, then the trial of their case would proceed per usual.
The Morong 43 health workers were released on December 10, 2010, which was Human Rights Day, after former President Benigno Aquino III directed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to drop the charges against them.