'Morong 43' generals want charges dropped on technicality

MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has postponed the arraignment of army generals and police officers involved in the alleged illegal detention of 43 suspected rebels, collectively known as the "Morong 43."

The respondents were supposed to be arraigned on Thursday, March 30, but the Morong 43 lawyers were informed that day that the accused had successfully petitioned the court to postpone the arraignment and hear their motion to dismiss based on technical flaws.

“The accused have filed motions to quash the charges which were heard last March 24. Upon verification with the court, it turned out that it had already issued an order on the same date requiring the prosecution to comment within 30 days, and at the same time, cancelling today's scheduled arraignment and resetting it to May 28,” the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) said in a statement. 

The NUPL said the complainants were not given prior notice of the postponement.

Under the rules of court, an accused can move to dismiss the charges at any time before arraignment. (READ: Morong 5: The lost brigade)

The NUPL is set to enter its appearance as private prosecutor for the 43 suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who were captured by the military in Morong, Rizal, in February 2010. They claimed to just be health workers illegally detained and tortured, but 5 of them have since admitted to being NPA members.

Originally scheduled for arraignment on Thursday were army generals Jorge Segovia, Aurelio Baladad, Joselito Reyes, and Cristobal Zaragoza; and police officers Marion Balonglong, Allan Nobleza, and Jovily Cabading.

Technical grounds

The military and police officers are facing 8 counts of violation of Republic Act Number 7438, which defines the rights of persons arrested, detained, or under custodial investigation. Health workers Jane Balleta, Samson Castillo, Mercy Castro, Merry Clamor, Gary Liberal, Reynaldo Macabenta, Alexis Montes, and Teresa Quinawayan filed charges against them.

The respondents filed a motion to quash on March 20, citing alleged violations in the rules of court.

First, they said the information accuses them of two offenses – violation of sections 4(a) and 4(b) of RA 7438. The first provision requires the arresting officer to inform the person of one's miranda rights, or the right to remain silent and have a competent lawyer. The second prohibits the arresting officers from keeping the arrested person  from conferring with a lawyer, a relative, a doctor, or a spiritual adviser.

The respondents alleged that the language in the informations combine elements of both provisions, therefore charging them of more than one offense. This, they said, is a violation of their right to be informed clearly of their charges so they can prepare a sound defense.

“This is a violation of the right of all the accused to be informed of the true nature and the true cause of the accusations against them. Indeed, they are certainly put at a disadvantage because they are not clearly informed as to which offense is being charged against them,” their motion reads. (READ: QC prosecutor nabbed for extort try on 'Morong 43' doctor)

A second violation of their right to be properly informed of their charge is the timeline of the accusation, the respondents said. The information said the offense happened on “February 7, 2010, or sometime prior or subsequent thereto.”

In their motions to quash, the respondents claimed that the timeline is too indefinite and a clear violation of the rights of an accused.

“The indefinite allegation is tantamount to a total omission of an approximate date, in violation of the prescribed form of informations under Rule 110, Section 6. This renders the Information susceptible to quashal pursuant to Rule 117, Section 3(e),” their motions read. (READ: NPA rebel killed in clash one of 'Morong 43' – military)

Morong 43

The military said the 43 were arrested in February 2010 because they were conducting explosives training in a house in Morong. The detainees, who went on hunger strike to demand their release, were slapped with charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, and gun ban violation.

On December 10, 2010, on Human Rights Day, then President Benigno Aquino III announced that charges against the Morong 43 would be dropped because they were denied due process.

The Morong Regional Trial Court (RTC) followed suit and ordered their release after 10 months of detention. They claimed they were tortured by soldiers.

Members of the Morong 43 filed torture charges against the soldiers, but the Ombudsman dismissed the charges for non-conclusive evidence.

The NUPL is dead set on pursuing the charges before the Sandiganbayan.

“We stand by our statement that the simple message is loud and clear: it is not entirely true that you can get away with rights violations with impunity just like that. Sooner or later you will be held to account,” the NUPL said. (READ: Arroyo faces new trial, this time over 'Morong 43' arrest) – 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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