Left leaders question judge's flip-flop in murder case

MANILA, Philippines – The Public Interest Law Center (PILC) on Monday morning, July 30, asked a local court to reconsider its order to arrest 4 leftist leaders who are now being hunted by the Philippine National Police (PNP).

The PILC questioned before the Palayan City, Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court (RTC) the alleged flip-flopping of Judge Evelyn Atienza-Turla. 

In a two-paragraph order dated July 11, 2018, Branch 40 Judge Turla ordered the issuance of the warrants of arrest against the following for 2 counts of murder:

ORDER. Judge Evelyn Atienza-Turla orders the issuance of a warrant of arrest against 4 leftist leaders for murders commited in 2003 and 2004. Sourced photo

ORDER. Judge Evelyn Atienza-Turla orders the issuance of a warrant of arrest against 4 leftist leaders for murders commited in 2003 and 2004.

Sourced photo

In the warrants issued shortly after, Judge Turla didn’t recommend bail.

The PILC said that on July 18, 2008, or 10 years ago, Turla found no probable cause to issue an arrest warrant against the suspects, finding flaws in the prosecution's evidence.

The judge also noted that the principal witnesses were not presented before prosecutors, and neither were their affidavits subscribed to in their presence.

Judge Turla remanded the case to the prosecutors, and even scolded them for filing the charges based solely on testimonies they didn't hear personally.

While the case was indeed returned to the prosecutors for reinvestigation, the PILC said no new evidence was presented.

“The assailed July 11, 2018 order finding probable cause comes as a surprise considering the earlier declaration of the Honorable Court and seeing further that no new evidence was submitted to the Honorable Court for the past twelve years,” said the motion.

The PILC added that the July 2018 order did not explain why the judge changed her decision. The warrants must therefore be quashed because it was based on Turla’s 2-paragraph order “which did not lay out the facts and the law," the PILC said.

The group invoked the Constitution, as well as Supreme Court rulings, which require judges and justices to comprehensively discuss facts and legal reasoning in their orders.

“The [July 2018] Order is a big turnaround from the Honorable Judge’s own findings and conclusions in her July 18, 2008 Order on the accused-movants’ motion for judicial determination of probable cause,” said the PLIC.

What’s the case? On December 23, 2003, Jimmy Peralta was killed after he was run over by a car in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija.

On May 6, 2004, Carlito Bayudang was shot dead in his home also in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija. 

Bayudang’s widow Isabelita filed the complaint against the Left leaders, mostly belonging to groups Anakpawis, Gabriela and Bayan Muna, implicating them in an alleged plot to “liquidate” or kill supporters of rival partylist Akbayan.

In November 2006, a certain Julie Flores Sinohin came forward to say that he fired the shots that killed Bayudang. 

This confession was bolstered by the testimonies of Cleotilde Peralta, widow of Peralta, and Alvarez Juliano, who claim to have witnessed a meeting of CPP-NPA-NDF and Bayan leaders in Nueva Ecija in 2010 where the plots supposedly were first planned.

Sinohin and Juliano said they were acting as security for the meeting, while Cleotilde said she served food, and that’s when they allegedly heard Ocampo, Masa, Casiño and Mariano order to liquidate “ang sinomang dating kasamahan na susuporta sa Akbayan at magiging sagabal sa ikapapanalo ng Bayan Muna (whoever will support Akbayan and will hinder the victory of Bayan Muna.”

What are the other arguments? Apart from the questioned decision on July 11 that wasn’t backed by an explanation, the PILC said there are irregularities in the testimonies of the witnesses.

The lawyers said the testimonies of Sinohin, Peralta and Juliano were almost identical. The claim that they were able to stay long enough in the room to hear a highly sensitive discussion is also improbable, said the PILC.

The group noted that in 2007, Mrs Bayudang filed a petition for disqualification against Bayan Muna, Gabriela and Anakpawis, but it was dismissed by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).

There were also inconsistencies in the police records, such as when Sinohin claimed he shot Bayudang but the bullets retrieved from the scene did not match Sinohin’s gun. 

What’s happening bears traces of political persecution, the lawyers said.  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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