STOP THE HARASSMENT Protesters, led by Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes, call for a stop to the political persecution of Satur Ocampo, Liza Maza, Teddy Casiño and Rafael Mariano, who are facing arrest in connection with the 2006 killing of three men in Nueva Ecija. —NIÑO JESUS ORBETA
Surrender instead of waiting to be arrested.
The Philippine National Police chief made the appeal to former party-list lawmakers—including National Anti-Poverty Commission chief Liza Maza—who have been issued arrest warrants by a Nueva Ecija court in connection with a multiple murder case.
At a press conference on Monday in Camp Crame, PNP Director General Oscar Albayalde said the police were “duty-bound” and “constitutionally mandated” to implement the arrest order issued last week by the Palayan City Regional Trial Court Branch 40.
The warrants were issued for former Bayan Muna Representatives Satur Ocampo and Teodoro Casiño, former Gabriela Representative Maza, former Agrarian Reform Secretary and ex-Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano, Vicente Cayetano, Delfin Pimentel and Emeterio Atalan.
While the PNP had already sent out arresting teams to serve the warrants, Albayalde said, “I am also appealing to these individuals to just turn themselves in and to submit themselves to judicial processes.”
The PNP chief said he hoped the subjects of the warrants would send surrender feelers within the week.
The warrants arose from a multiple murder case the Nueva Ecija police filed in 2006 during the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The PNP, acting on complaints by widows of the victims and the testimony of an alleged “coconspirator” in the crime, accused 19 people, including the militant leaders, of having a hand in the deaths of Carlito Bayudang, Jimmy Peralta and Danilo Felipe.
Bayudang, Peralta and Felipe were killed allegedly because they were supporters of Akbayan, a rival party-list group.
The Supreme Court ordered the Palayan court in 2017 to continue hearing the case, setting aside orders issued by the lower court in 2008 remanding the case to the Nueva Ecija prosecutor’s office for preliminary investigation.
As Albayalde held the press conference, groups belonging to Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) staged a rally just outside Camp Crame, calling for the dropping of charges against the militant leaders.
Bayan said the charges were fabricated and baseless.
“Now, Regional Trial Court Judge [Evelyn Turla] found probable cause, when earlier she could not. These are definitely unusual circumstances,” the group said in a statement.
In a statement, the legal counsel of the former party-list representatives on Monday described as “unfair” Albayalde’s encouragement for “the innocent to surrender.”
“The warrant stems from a clearly trumped-up charge initiated 12 years ago by the PNP, the military and the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group, and was part of the legal offensive policy of the Arroyo administration against progressive leaders of mass organizations,” said Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center.
Pastores noted that the “alleged witnesses in the case have long been found by different tribunals to have lied about the facts in this case. They were even adjudged liable for damages… for besmirching [Ocampo’s] reputation.”
“Our clients are not in hiding, but considering the climate of impunity, they are taking the necessary precautions while they weigh all options to ensure their safety and to protect their rights,” she said.
Pastores gave assurance that the leaders would face the charges against them, adding that they had filed a motion for reconsideration in the Palayan court and had asked the court to dismiss the charges against them.
Asked about allegations that the case was revived as part of political harassment arising from Arroyo’s rise to power as Speaker, Albayalde said: “This is a court order. All we will do is follow [it], as part of of our mandate to serve warrants of arrest. We have no hold over what happened before.”
On Monday, the Communist Party of the Philippines said the revival of the charges against the militant leaders “is a portent of more general crackdown following successive arrests and detention of activists and human rights workers across the country.” —With reports from Frinston Lim and Julia Ornedo