Olongapo City RTC affirms dismissal of terrorism charges against 2 Aetas

Published August 5, 2021, 8:40 AM

by Jeffrey Damicog

Trial Court

The Olongapo City regional trial court (RTC) has affirmed its decision that dismissed the cases filed against two Aeta tribesmen who had been accused as members of the outlawed New People’s Army (NPA) and had been charged with violations of Republic Act No. 11479, the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020.

In an order issued last July 27, RTC Judge Melani Fay V. Tadili dismissed the motion for reconsideration filed by the prosecution on the acquittal of Aetas Japer T. Gurung and Junior U. Ramos.

“The grant of accused’s demurrer to evidence operates as an acquittal and thus, reconsideration of the same will subject them to double jeopardy,” Judge Tadili ruled.

She cited a 2010 Supreme Court decision which stated: “The demurrer to evidence in criminal cases, such as the one at bar, is ‘filed after the prosecution had rested its case,’ and when the same is granted, it calls ‘for an appreciation of the evidence adduced by the prosecution and its sufficiency to warrant conviction beyond reasonable doubt, resulting in a dismissal of the case on merits, tantamount to an acquittal of the accused.’”

Gurung and Ramos were arrested by the military in Zambales on Aug. 26, 2020 after their identification as members of the NPA during a firefight against government troops.

They were arrested without warrant after the military claimed that ammunition, grenade, and instruments for detonation were found in their possession.

In her order issued last July 15, Judge Tadili said: “After a careful examination of the records, the Court holds that the prosecution failed to discharge the burden of proving the identities of the accused as perpetrators of the crime of violation of Section 4, R.A. No 11479. Thus, the case for violation of this law against the accused must be dismissed.”

Contrary to what the prosecution stated, the judge said that, among other things, sworn statements of witnesses from the military — Army 2nd Lieutenants Fritz A. Antoma and Ian Dominic C. Oran — “show that no declaration was made that they saw the accused during the gunfight.”

“The inconsistencies of the soldiers on the presence of the accused at the crime scene and the profiling of the accused, and the presence of the danger signals in their identification of the accused cast doubt on their testimonies that accused were perpetrators of the crime of violation of Section 4 of R. A. No. 11479,” the judge also said.

Since there is no proof that the two Aetas committed acts of terrorism, Tadili said “their warrantless arrest was unlawful.”

“The invalidity of an arrest leads to several consequences, one of which is any search incident to the arrest becomes invalid thus rendering the evidence acquired as constitutionally inadmissible,” the judge added.