Len Olea’s Blog

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Perverting justice

Posted by lenolea on November 13, 2008

Seventy-two activists have recently been charged of criminal charges in connection with a raid by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental in March 2006.

More than 30 of the respondents are leaders and members of people’s organizations in Southern Tagalog and organizers of labor unions affiliated with the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).

Five of the 72 accused have already been arrested. They were Remigio Saladero, Jr., KMU legal counsel; Rogelio Galit, spokesperson of Katipunan ng mga Magbubukid sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-Ka), transport sector leader Nestor San Jose; Bayan Muna member Crispin Zapanta; and, Arnaldo Seminiano, organizer of the Ilaw-Buklod ng Manggagawa (IBM). They have been detained at the Calapan City District Jail in Mindoro Oriental.

Others facing warrants of arrest have been forced to go into hiding.

In August, 27 activists were slapped with charges of arson, destruction of property and conspiracy to commit rebellion in connection to the burning down of a telecommunications company’s cell site in Lemery, Batangas. Seventeen of the 27 respondents were also charged in the Mindoro case.

The filing of criminal charges against activists is not new. Multiple murder charges were also filed against party list representatives of Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriela. Students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) who apprehended two intelligence agents roaming inside their campus have been charged with frustrated murder.

Consultants of the National Democratic Front (NDF) to the peace negotiations Eduardo Serrano, Elizabeth Principe, Randall Echanis, Angie Ipong and Randy Malayao have been arrested and languishing in jails for criminal charges. The arrest and detention of NDFP consultants violate the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), which was signed by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the NDFP on February 24, 1995. In sum, the JASIG guarantees the security and immunity from arrest of all those listed as involved in the peace negotiations.

Filing common crimes against political dissenters is also in violation of the Amado V. Hernandez doctrine. The Hernandez doctrine became part of Philippine jurisprudence when, in 1956, the Supreme Court ruled in the case People of the Philippines vs. Hernandez that a person who commits a political offense could be charged with rebellion but not with common crimes such as murder, arson, robbery, etc. It ruled that the act of rebellion would already include and absorb these crimes.

In a statement following Saladero’s arrest, Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch said, “Saladero’s arrest shows the Philippine government is not sincere in its pledges to stop harassing lawyers and activists…”

The Human Rights Watch recalled several other cases that ‘bear similarities to Saladero’s arrest” which the courts have subsequently declared illegal.

The group cited the case of the Tagaytay Five- Riel Custodio, Axel Pinpin, Aristides Sarmiento, Enrico Ybanez and Michael Masayes – advocates of farmers’ rights and the case of Pastor Berlin Guerrero of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). After languishing in jail for several months, the Tagaytay Five and Guerrero were ordered released for lack of sufficient evidence to the crimes hurled against them.

The legal offensives against activists form part of the Arroyo government’s counter-insurgency program. The Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG), created by virtue of Arroyo’s executive order 493 on January 17, 2006 and headed by National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, is responsible for the build-up and filing of cases against leaders and members of mass organizations. By filing non-bailable charges against leaders and members of people’s organizations, the Arroyo government intends to put its critics behind bars and wishes to cripple the anti-Arroyo movement.

No less than the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston, when he visited the country in February 2007, maintained, “…the reason that the IALAG was established for bringing charges against members of these civil society organizations and party list groups is that they have seldom committed any obvious criminal offense.”

In his final report, Alston said, “IALAG should be abolished, and the criminal justice system should refocus on investigating and prosecuting those committing extrajudicial executions and other serious crimes.”

The Supreme Court, in its June 1, 2007 decision junking the rebellion charges against the party-list representatives and 50 others, admonished Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez and the Department of Justice public prosecutors not to allow their office to be used or prostituted for political objectives.

However, the Arroyo government obviously prefers jailing political dissenters to punishing perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other rights abuses. Of the 993 victims of killings and more than 200 victims of enforced disappearances since 2001, not one of the perpetrators has been prosecuted. Impunity persists.

This will continue because the continuing political repression is a manifestation of the Arroyo government’s worsening paranoia. The occupant in Malacañang fears that the Filipino people–fed up with corruption, poverty and other tragedies brought by the government’s anti-people policies–will rise up and call for genuine change.

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