Tiamzons leave ‘irregular’ inquest

Bea Cupin

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The Tiamzons' legal counsel says the charges for illegal possession of firearms and explosives are invalid because when they were apprehended, they had only kittens and puppies

ARRESTED. Wilma Tiamzon leaves the PNP Multipurpose Center after they protest the "highly irregular" inquest proceedings against the Tiamzons and 5 others. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Handcuffed but defiant, alleged Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) top leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon left the inquest proceedings for their arrest at the Camp Crame Multipurpose Hall in Quezon City on Monday, March 24. 

While being led out by police back into a coaster that would take them to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center also in Camp Crame, Benito Tiamzon exclaimed: “Tuloy ang laban!” (The fight continues!)

Speaking to reporters, the Tiamzons’ legal counsel Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center called the inquest proceedings “highly irregular.” Pastores said they asked permission before leaving the inquest. 

Criminal Investigation and Detection Group National Capital Region Chief Senior Superintendent Roberto Fajardo told reporters that the inquest continued despite the absence of the Tiamzons, 5 others, and their legal team. 

The group was arrested on Saturday, March 22, in Cebu. They were served arrest warrants for crimes against humanity, including murder, multiple murder, and frustrated murder charges. (READ: Benito Tiamzon: Writer, organizer, party man)

The Tiamzons’ legal team said they were surprised by today’s inquest proceedings. They now face additional charges of illegal possession of firearms, illegal possession of explosives, and harboring criminals. 

The Tiamzons, through their legal team, questioned the validity of holding the inquest proceedings in Camp Crame when the alleged crimes occurred in Cebu. Pastores said she has yet to see the Tiamzons’ arrest warrants for crimes against humanity. 

“Ang tingin ko to justify yung kanilang continued detention, lalong lalo na doon sa 5 to justify their illegal detention here, nagfifile ngayon ng illegal possession of firearms na clearly highly irregular,” said Pastores. (To justify the continued detention [of the Tiamzons and of 5 others], they are now filing illegal possession of firearms which is clearly irregular.)

'IRREGULAR.' Wilma and Benito Tiamzon leave the PNP Custodial Center for their inquest but leave soon after, protesting its "irregularity." Photo courtesy of PNP PIO

Pastores said the inquest proceedings should have been conducted in Cebu immediately after their arrest. 

But Fajardo said the Department of Justice (DOJ) is allowed to hold inquest proceedings at any venue – in this case, Camp Crame, due to security concerns. 

The trial for the charges, however, will be held where the charges will be filed, said Fajardo. He refused to elaborate.

Representing the DOJ’s prosecution panel are Assistant State Prosecutor Niven R. Canlapan and Cesar A. Chavez III. Asked about the legality of the inquest continuing despite the absence of the accused and their legal counsels, Fajardo said it would be up to the DOJ to explain. 

Kittens and puppies, not firearms? 

Pastores said they found it odd that they are now pressing new charges almost 36 hours after their arrest. “Actually, arbitrary detention na nga ang ginawa sa kanila kung ang pagbabatayan ay warrantless arrest,” she added. (This is arbitrary detention already if you’re talking about a warrantless arrest.) 

Law enforcers need to file cases against suspects within 36 hours of a warrantless arrest, she explained. 

Pastores said the charges for illegal possession of firearms and explosives were invalid because when the Tiamzons were apprehended, they only had with them puppies and kittens. 

“Kung batay sa aming pagsusuri ay planted evidence ito, illegal iyon…magpa-plant ka ng ebidensiya para lang ma-justify yung filing ng case dahil nga noong naaresto sila, wala naman talagang ganoon. Malinaw iyon sa inventory na kanilang pinirmahan,” she said.  

(If based on our research we find out that this is planted evidence, that’s illegal – to plant evidence just to justify filing a case. It was clear when they were arrested, these were no firearms or explosives. It was in the inventory that the arresting officers signed.)  

EVIDENCE? In this handout photo, the PNP present what they allege are the illegal firearms confiscated during Benito and Wilma Tiamzon's arrest. Photo by PNP PIO

According to the military, the Tiamzons and 5 others were on board a Starex van and a Toyota Innova during their arrest. Earlier reports did not indicate the seizure of firearms and explosives during the arrest in Cebu. 

Pastores said they would question the resolution that will be issued following the inquest. She said they are prepared to take the case to a higher court to question inquest and the “presentation of clearly planted evidence,” referring to the alleged seizure of firearms and explosives. 

The Tiamzons’ legal team is also considering pressing charges against their arresting officers. “Maraming possible – criminal, civil or administrative cases – doon sa mga police officers na nagsasabing sila ay nakakita ng firearms, ammunitions and explosives,” she said.

(There are many possibilities. We can file criminal, civil or administrative cases against the police officer who said they saw firearms, ammunition and explosives.) – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.