MANILA, Philippines – Presiding Judge Radney Reginaldo Garcia of the Iloilo City Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) Branch 7 on Wednesday, October 19, acquitted human rights lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen and 41 others, including eight journalists, of simple disobedience to agents of a person in authority during their May 1, 2020 rally in Jaro, Iloilo.
The judge said the prosecution failed to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.
Police filed complaints against the 42 defendants after arresting them as they protested the killing of Bayan Muna Iloilo coordinator Jory Porquia on April 30 of the same year.
The judge acknowledged the police were performing their roles as persons in authority that day, enforcing the executive orders (EOs) of the Iloilo City mayor and two laws often cited in banning public gatherings at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Judge Garcia said the EOs, Republic Act (RA) No. 11332 of 2018, which prescribes procedures in response to epidemics and health events, and RA 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020, do not provide specific violations.
These only say that “appropriate administrative and criminal charges may be filed” against violators.
No act can be pronounced criminal unless it is clearly made so by a statute prior to its commission, the judge pointed out.
His decision also noted that police officers, in announcing the arrests, specified violation of the laws against public gathering, not disobedience to authorities.
The judge likewise stressed that even the prosecution witness, Police Corporal Rodolfo Lacorte Jr., said the protesters did not resist arrest.
Videos shown during the trial also showed that while the police were informing the group of their arrest, many of the accused were already in their vehicles and only around 10 people were still at the protest site.
“This substantiates testimonies of the witnesses for the defense that when they were not allowed by the police to proceed with their motor caravan, they decided to go back inside their vehicles and were ready to leave, but the police officers and their patrol cars blocked them,” the judge said.
The decision said Guillen – who receive a top global human rights award in 2022 following an assassination attempt in 2021 – was shown in videos only conferring with police officers.
Videos also showed the eight Altermidya correspondents “covering, holding cameras and gadgets and not placards or streamers, or participating in the protests.”
The judge added that the journalists carried identification cards of a group properly registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Mere presence at the scene of the crime without proof of cooperation or agreement to cooperate is not enough to constitute one a party to a conspiracy, the judge said. – Rappler.com