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Nueva Ecija court clears Left leaders of murder charges

Lian Buan

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Nueva Ecija court clears Left leaders of murder charges
(UPDATED) The warrants of arrest against Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño, Rafael Mariano and anti-poverty secretary Liza Maza are no longer in effect

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) –  The Palayan City, Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court (RTC) has dismissed the murder charges and quashed the warrants of arrest against leftist leaders Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño, Rafael Mariano and anti-poverty secretary Liza Maza.

Lawyer Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), the handling firm for the cases against the 4, confirmed it to Rappler on Monday, August 13.

“Considering that the evidence on hand absolutely fails to support a finding of probable cause against accused-movants, the Motion for Reconsideration of the Order dated July 11, 2018 with prayer to Quash Warrants of Arrests is hereby granted,” said the resolution dated August 8, by Acting Presiding Judge Trese Wenceslao.

Wenceslao took over the case when Branch 40 Judge Evelyn Atienza-Turla inhibited citing pressure.

“Consequently, the warrants of arrest issued on July 11, 20-18 under Criminal Case Nos. 1879-P and 1880-P against Saturnino C. Ocampo, Liza L. Maza, Teodoro A. Casiño and Rafael V. Mariano are quashed. The instant cases are dismissed as to the said accused-movants,” Wenceslao’s decision added.

The quashing of warrants means they are no longer in effect. 

The murder cases stemmed from the killings in 2003 and 2004 of Jimmy Peralta and Carlito Bayudang, who have been widely identified as member-supporters of Akbayan, the rival partylist of Makabayan where the 4 leaders belong.

Akbayan has distanced itself from the charges.

The warrants against the 4 were issued by Turla on July 11, which were slammed by PILC as a flip-flop  given that 10 years ago, Turla issued a resolution saying she found no probable cause to issue a warrant.

The PILC appealed reconsideration of years-old evidence which included testimonies from 3 individuals who claimed to have heard the 4 plot the killings during a CPP-NPA-NDF meeting in Nueva Ecija in August 2000.

The witnesses claimed they were hired as security and food servers during the meeting. Wenceslao said the claims are doubtful.

“It is hard to believe, as it would be contrary to human experience that one would detail security inside a meeting area, if the issues discussed therein are so sensitive,” said Wenceslao.

One of the 3 witnesses was rebel returnee Julie Flores Sinohin who claimed he shot one of the victims to his death.

Wenceslao said Sinohin’s testimony was contrary to the story of a person who saw and heard the assailants. Sinohin said he was with Ka Apple and Ka Nasa, while the eyewitness said he saw one of the assailants call out to his partner as “Ka Ron.”

More importantly, Wenceslao gave merit to the fact that the ballistics examination of the police revealed that the bullet that killed the victim did not come from Sinohin’s gun.

However, Wenceslao said this wasn’t a case of political persecution.

“They have not alleged, much less [proven], any ill-motive or malice that could have impelled the panel of prosecutors to have ruled in the way they did,” Wenceslao said.

“However, the fact remains that probable cause have not been established to warrant the arrest of the movants…This Court is likewise mandated to dismiss the case when the evidence on record clearly fails to establish probable cause against the accused, for to do otherwise will be espousing injustice, which this Court is under solemn oath to prevent,” Wenceslao added.

Harrassment charges?

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate said “those behind these harassment charges should be held accountable.” 

The Philippine National Police (PNP) launched a manhunt against the 4, with lawyer Ferdinand Topacio offering a P1 million bounty over the heads of the leaders who said they were still exhausting their legal options.

“Atty. Topacio and his minions should also be made to answer for unnecessarily putting the security and lives of the Makabayan 4 in jeopardy,” Zarate said.

“At the very least, we challenge him to donate the P4 million bounty he supposedly raised against the progressive leaders to the evacuees hit by the torrential rains in NCR and other areas,” Zarate added.

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.