Court denies GMA bid to dismiss 'Morong 43' damage suit

By Janvic Mateo, The Philippine Star

Posted at Nov 24 2012 08:51 AM | Updated as of Nov 25 2012 02:31 AM

MANILA, Philippines - A Quezon City court has denied the petition of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to dismiss the P15-million civil suit filed against her and other military officials by some members of the so-called “Morong 43.”

In a decision promulgated yesterday, Judge Afable Cajigal of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 96 denied Arroyo+fs motion for reconsideration asking the court to overturn the earlier decision of Branch 226 Pairing Judge Cleto Villacorta to junk the motion to dismiss the case filed against the Pampanga representative.

“Gleaned from the said Motion for Reconsideration were reiterations and mere rehash of the grounds relied upon in the defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, and the same has been exhaustively passed upon by the previous Court. Finding no cogent reason to depart from the previous ruling of Branch 226, the instant motion is hereby denied,” the decision reads.

The civil suit stemmed from the case filed by six members of the Morong 43 for their supposed illegal arrest and torture under the hands of the military in 2010.

The case was filed by Alex Montes, Merry Mia Clamor, Gary Liberal, Ma. Teresa Quinawayan, Reynaldo Macabenta, and Mercy Castro.

Aside from Arroyo, also named respondents were former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Victor Ibrado, former Army chief Delfin Bangit, former national security adviser Norberto Gonzales, former 2nd Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Jorge Segovia, Col. Victorino Zaragoza, Maj. Manuel Tabion, Col. Aurelio Baladad, Lt. Col. Jaime Abawag, and Superintendents Marion Balolong and Allan Nubleza.

Montes said that while the former president was not directly involved in their torture, Arroyo should be held accountable since she has knowledge of the incident as she was the commander-in-chief of the AFP.

“We are happy that the case is finally moving,” Montes said.

Around 20 members of the Justice for the Morong 43 Movement went to the Quezon City Hall of Justice yesterday to urge the court to convict Arroyo.

‘Not yet off the hook’

In another case, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes said that the prescription period for filing election offense and other criminal charges against the so-called “Garci Boys” who rigged the 2004 elections should have already expired, except for Arroyo, who stepped down from office in 2010.

“The Garci Boys were in 2004 so it should have prescribed already. The prescription (period) for election offense is five years,” he said during an ambush interview.

The so-called Garci Boys refer to some Comelec officials associated with former Comelec commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and mentioned in his alleged wiretapped conversation with Arroyo about the manipulation of poll results in 2004.

Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano had named the Garci Boys during a Senate inquiry last year as Ray Sumalipao (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao regional director); Renato Magbutay (Northern Mindanao regional director), Francisco Pobe (Caraga acting assistant regional director), Renault Macarambon (Comelec-Election and Barangay Affairs Department assistant director), Teopisto Elnas Jr. (Comelec-Election and Barangay Affairs Department director), and Cirilo Nala Jr. (Surigao del Sur provincial election supervisor).

But while they could no longer be charged criminally, administrative charges could still be lodged against them.

Brillantes said that this is not the Comelec’s priority at present.

“It happened in 2004? Should we dig into that? There was a fire here in 2007 so many documents were burned. We have to reconstitute the records and it is difficult to do that. We still plan to file cases but it is not our priority now,” he added.

He said Arroyo cannot be charged while she was incumbent and the prescription started when she left office. The case will prescribe in 2015.

Under Section 267 of the Omnibus Election Code, the prescription period for election offenses is five years “from the date of their commission.”

However, under Republic Act 9369 or the Poll Automation Law, electoral sabotage cases have a prescription period of 20 years. Its implementation started in the 2010 elections. – With Sheila Crisostomo