MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the dismissal of the criminal case against Sen. Panfilo Lacson and several others in connection with the killing of 11 members of the Kuratong Baleleng robbery holdup gang in 1995.
In a 24-page decision penned by Associate Justice Roberto Abad, the high court affirmed the ruling of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 81 which dismissed the multiple murder case against Lacson, then Philippine National Police (PNP) Task Force Habagat chief, and police officers Jewel F. Canson, Romeo M. Acop, Francisco G. Zubia, Jr., Michael Ray B. Aquino, Cezar O. Mancao II, and 28 others.
The high court said it agreed with the ruling of Quezon City RTC Branch 81 Judge Theresa Yadao that the prosecution failed to establish probable cause against the respondents.
"That is the situation here: the evidence on record clearly fails to establish probable cause against the respondents," the decision read.
The PNP's Anti-bank Robbery and Intelligence Task Force Group (PNP ABRITG), composed of Task Force Habagat, the Traffic Management Command (TMC), Criminal Investigation Command, and National Capital Region Command, killed 11 members of the gang in the early morning of May 18, 1995 along Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City.
SPO2 Eduardo Delos Reyes of the Criminal Investigation Command later announced to the press that what happened was a "summary execution," not a shoot-out between the police and the gang members.
However, Delos Reyes and other prosecution witnesses, and complainants recanted their sworn statements before the respondents could be arraigned by the trial court, prompting the respondents to formally urge the trial court to determine probable cause against them before warrants for their arrest could be issued.
On March 29, 1999, the trial court ordered the provisional dismissal of the cases "for lack of probable cause" following the recantation of the witnesses and the submission of affidavits of desistance by private complainants.
Two years later, in March 2001, then PNP chief Leandro R. Mendoza pushed for the reopening of the case before the Dept. of Justice (DOJ). Then-DOJ Secretary Hernando Perez created a panel of prosecutors to conduct the probe.
On June 6, 2001, the panel found probable cause to indict Lacson, et al. and filed separate informations against them before the trial court.
Even as the high court pointed out that the prosecution failed to observe the judicial hierarchy of courts by going straight to it instead of the Court of Appeals (CA), a ruling on the merits of the case was still made because of the "immense public interest" in the Kuratong Baleleng case.
The high court said that "[i]n the absence of probable cause to indict respondents for the crime of multiple murder, they should be insulated from the tribulations, expenses and anxiety of a public trial."
The high court also took notice that Mendoza's move for the revival of the cases in 2001, was already six years after the incident happened.
"It would have been ridiculous to entertain the belief that the police could produce new witnesses in the five days required of the prosecution by the rules," the decision read.
Aside from affirming the dismissal of the criminal action against Lacson's group, the high court also affirmed the following orders of the trial court:
1. the Order dated November 12, 2003 which denied the prayer for re-raffle, granted the motions for determination of probable cause, (and dismissed the criminal cases);
2. the Order dated January 16, 2004 which granted the motion of the respondents for the immediate resolution of the three pending incidents before the court;
3. the Order dated January 21, 2004 which denied the motion to recuse and the urgent supplemental motion for compulsory disqualification;
4. the Order dated January 22, 2004 which denied the motion for reconsideration of the Order dated November 12, 2003; and
5. the Order dated January 26, 2004 which denied the motion for reconsideration of the January 16, 2004 Order.