MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – A civil society group is offering a P1-million reward for information that will lead to the arrest of National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) head Liza Maza, former agrarian reform secretary Rafael Mariano, and two other leftist leaders.
In a press briefing on Saturday, August 4, Citizens' Crime Watch said it is offering as much as P250,000 each for information on the whereabouts of Maza, Mariano, and former Bayan Muna representatives Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casiño. The Philippine National Police deployed no less than the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group to arrest all 4.
In an arrest order dated July 11, Presiding Judge Evelyn Turla of the Regional Trial Court in Palayan, Nueva Ecija, said probable cause was already found against the accused in murder charges filed in 2006.
The case was filed 12 years ago by Mayumi Peralta and Isabelita Bayudang, who accused the 4 leftist leaders of conspiring to kill their husbands Jimmy Peralta and Carlito Bayudang in 2003 and 2004, respectively.
Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said the reward money was donated by concerned citizens who were his former clients, to aid in the immediate arrest of the 4.
(We shouldn't disrepect our law. We have laws, there's an arrest warrant against them, there's a case in court – why does it seem like they're disregarding it? People might lose their confidence in the rule of law.)
He added: "Sumuko na po kayo (Please surrender.) If you think you are innocent, and then you are presumed innocent. Let litigation take its course."
Malacañang earlier urged Maza to surrender. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque also said in a statement on Sunday, August 5, that Maza "remains a member of the Cabinet unless there is a directive from the President stating otherwise."
Roque added: "On the P1-million reward offered, that is a private initiative. As far as we are concerned, all aspects of this case are in the hands of the court and we look forward to an impartial and expeditious trial."
The Public Interest Law Center (PILC), which represents the 4 former lawmakers, slammed the group for the "bizarre and unsettling" reward money, calling it a "cheap trick" in solving crimes.
"Such call endangers the lives of our clients by sending in bounty hunters of all sorts, both public and private, to deal with the matter amidst the present climate of lawlessness and abuse of force," PILC said in a statement on Saturday.
"If it is truly opposed to human rights violations, the Citizens' Crime Watch should best channel its energies to solving cases of massive human rights violations at present and extrajudicial killings dating back to the time of GMA (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo)," it added.
The PILC also questioned the involvement of Topacio, lawyer of Arroyo and her husband Mike Arroyo, in the effort.
"Where did he get the money to pay for the reward? Did it come from taxpayers' money funneled through the Citizens' Crime Watch, or from his client former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo under whose administration these trumped-up charges were initiated? Is he confirming that it is GMA who is behind the revival of the case?" it asked.
"We emphasize that Secretary Liza, Ka Satur, Ka Paeng, and Teddy aren't threats to the lives and liberties of the Filipino people. Perhaps Atty Topacio, his clients, and their ilk better prove they aren't," the PILC added.
In a statement on Saturday, coalition Tindig Pilipinas decried the arrest warrant against the 4 and questioned the revival of what they called the "Gloria Macapagal Arroyo-era murder case."
"This case is remarkable for its timing in that its revival came soon after the glorious resurrection of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's political career as House speaker," Tindig Pilipinas said.
"If the President dismisses the revival of the case as coincidental, it only betrays his naiveté, the reality that he has lost substantial control over the levers of power, and that GMA has wielded her power effectively over the bureaucracy," the coalition added.
Tindig Pilipinas said the 4 should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that "no person should be arrested or harassed on trumped-up charges."
Leftist leaders earlier asked the Palayan City Regional Trial Court to reconsider the arrest warrant and questioned before the local court the alleged flip-flopping of Turla.