Ozamiz City

Ozamiz court acquits IFI bishop, NDF consultant in 7-year-old gun, explosives case

Froilan Gallardo

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Ozamiz court acquits IFI bishop, NDF consultant in 7-year-old gun, explosives case

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The regional court in Ozamiz City says prosecutors failed to present enough evidence against Bishop Carlo Morales and NDF peace consultant Rommel Salinas

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – A regional court dismissed the charges against an Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) bishop and a National Democratic Front (NDF) peace consultant who were arrested and incarcerated in Ozamiz City for illegal possession of firearms and explosives seven years ago.

In a 33-page decision handed down on July 2, Judge Grace Yulo of the Regional Trial Court Branch 15 in Ozamiz City said prosecutors failed to prove that IFI Bishop Carlo Morales and NDF consultant Rommel Salinas owned an MK2 hand grenade – the only seized evidence presented – allegedly found in their possession at a checkpoint along the highway in Barangay Gango, Ozamiz City, on May 11, 2017.

Police arrested Morales along with his wife, Maria Teofila, and their driver, Isadome Dalid. Police later released Morales’ two companions.

Yulo said that upon examination, the prosecution failed to present evidence that the accused “had no license or permit to own or possess the alleged explosives.”

She said the prosecution only presented testimonial evidence, the actual evidence of the grenade, and the confiscation receipt.

Yulo said these were not enough for a conviction.

IFI Supreme Bishop Joel Porlares hailed the decision, saying the acquittal of Morales and Salinas “speaks about the enduring power of justice” against their members who are targeted and red-tagged by the military and police.

Former IFI Supreme Bishop and now Surigao Bishop Rhee Timbang said red-tagging still continues against the IFI.

Timbang cited the continued red-tagging of Cagayan de Oro IFI Bishop Felixberto Calang, the continued imprisonment of IFI worker Adeem Yanez at the Lumbia jail in Cagayan de Oro, and the voluntary exile of Bishop Antonio Ablon as proof of the ongoing persecution.

“The red-tagging creates a climate of fear and threatens the lives of our clergy and church workers,” Timbang said.

Timbang added that the continued harassment forced IFI clergy and workers to lie low “in their work helping the poor.”

He said the worst part is that the IFI, once a bulwark of activism, has had to tone down its vigilance and militancy.

“We are happy with the acquittal, though it took seven long years for the wheels of justice to grind fine,” said Salinas’ lawyer, Virgilio Ponciano Ocaya.

The Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), which helped Morales and Salinas, said the changing judges in the regional court may have caused delays.

The first judge, Edmundo Pintac, was assassinated in October 2018. Judge Soliver Peras acted as the presiding judge until August 2021, when Judge Michael Ajoc took over. Judge Yulo started handling the case in December 2021 and eventually made the decision.

Ocaya said, “While the decision vindicated our innocent clients, much is yet to be done since many more innocent people who are victims of political persecution are still languishing in jail and facing trumped-up charges similar to these dismissed cases.”

The arrest of Bishop Morales sparked outrage from religious communities both locally and internationally, calling the charges against him a grave injustice to him and the IFI, which supported the peace talks between the government and the NDF.

Human rights advocates have long protested the arrests and called for the release of Salinas, pointing out that he is protected under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) signed by the government and NDF.

In a statement, UPLM Chairman Antonio Azarcon urged the government to resume peace talks with the NDF to address the root causes of the rebellion following this legal victory.– Rappler.com

2 comments

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  1. ET

    The “root causes of rebellion” is a complicated issue. Considering President Marcos Jr.’s tendency for corruption, disinformation, and “subtle” repression, any peace talks with the NDF would likely be just for show, if they happen at all. Additionally, it’s possible that they could be designed as a trap for NDF consultants.

  2. EJ

    “the root causes of rebellion” For so many reasons and angles, the current government will not address the root causes of rebellion if we really can call them rebellion – Grinding Poverty, Lack or limited Access to Quality Education, Despicable Economic Inequality (where corporate greed breeds corrupt politicians and in loving relationships corrupt politicians cradles greedy businessmen), and Immorally slow pace of Justice, and many more where these pages may not be enough. Addressing these problems will not answer their personal avarice, need for fame and power.

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