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Supreme Court to hold oral arguments on ex-NPA chief Salas' bid for freedom

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) decided to hold oral arguments on the bid to free former Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) chairman and New People's Army (NPA) commander Rodolfo Salas, more popularly known as Kumander Bilog, who was arrested on murder charges last February.

"The public oral arguments will be held on March 12, 2020, at 9:30 am at the Division Hearing Room," the SC's Public Information Office said on Thursday, March 5.

In a resolution dated March 2 but released Thursday, the SC 3rd Division decided to issue a writ of habeas corpus for Salas, and ordered the warden of the Manila City Jail to bring Salas to the High Court on March 12.

The warden, Jail Chief Inspector Lloyd Gonzaga, was also ordered by the SC to submit a return of the writ, meaning to answer the allegations in the petition filed by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) on behalf of Salas and his son Jody.

The SC will tackle whether the writ of habeas corpus is the proper remedy for Salas, and if there is double jeopardy in prosecuting him for the murder charges.

"Let a copy of this writ and the oral Advisory also be served on the Office of the Solicitor General," said the High Court.

The SC 3rd Division is composed of Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Alexander Gesmundo, Rosmari Carandang, Rodil Zalameda, and Samuel Gaerlan.

Legal grounds

Salas was arrested on February 18 on the power of an arrest warrant issued by the Manila Regional Trial Court in August 2019 over a 12-year-old murder case alleging a mass grave in Leyte for victims of the so-called purge of communists.

Habeas corpus means produce the body, and the privileges of the writ would have an effect of releasing Salas, as requested by FLAG's lawyers.

Although the Rule on the Writ of Habeas Corpus generally sees a warrant as a valid ground for detention and an exemption of the extraordinary remedy, FLAG insists otherwise.

FLAG cited the case Umil vs Ramos, saying that habeas corpus "must inquire into every phase and aspect of petitioner's detention," meaning it must determine the legality of the charge itself.

The lawyers also invoked a compromise agreement that the government struck with Salas in 1991.

In the agreement, Salas was to serve time for rebellion but he would be protected from "being charged and prosecuted for any common crime allegedly committed in furtherance of rebellion or subversion."

FLAG cited the Hernandez-Enrile doctrine where the SC said that "everything done," including "destruction of life and property," amounts to only one crime – rebellion.

In the petition, FLAG said the alleged Leyte murders fall under the category of "any common crime allegedly committed in furtherance of rebellion or subversion," which Salas is protected from under the agreement.

The petition also said Salas has long retired from the CPP and has "worked on rebuilding his life with his family in Angeles City."

How the SC will treat the FLAG petition is another test for the extraordinary writs like habeas corpus, as they have so far failed to help activists crying harassment under the Duterte administration. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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