MANILA — A panel of Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors has junked the murder complaint filed against 17 police officers over the killing of labor leader Manny Asuncion in Cavite on March 6, 2021, in what became known as "Bloody Sunday."
In a resolution received by the lawyer of Asuncion’s wife, Liezel, on January 16, Monday, the DOJ panel led by senior assistant state prosecutor Rodan Parrocha dismissed due to lack of probable cause the murder complaint against 17 members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Rizal and PNP-Laguna who were part of the team that supposedly served a search warrant on Asuncion’s office in Dasmariñas, Cavite.
“We lament the demise of Emmanuel Asuncion. However, complainant and the evidence she submitted failed to discharge the obligation to prove the existence of a crime and identify the perpetrators thereof. In the absence of proof, there could be no probable cause to charge the respondents,” the 23-page resolution said.
Police said Asuncion fought back upon service of the warrant but his family and lawyers said police ransacked the gate and the main door of his office without showing any warrant.
He was then supposedly brought towards the staircase and was later killed.
After a months-long probe by the DOJ’s special investigating team (SIT), the murder complaint was filed in November 2021.
In dismissing the murder complaint, the DOJ panel said Liezel was not able to adequately substantiate her allegations against the cops.
“A perusal of complainant Liezel Asuncion’s complaint-affidavit shows that she was not able to establish the identity/ies of the assailant/s. Although she identified the group of people who entered their house to be police officers, nevertheless, she was not able to see their faces,” the resolution said, quoting Liezel’s admission that the respondents were wearing ski masks and only their eyes were visible.
Liezel also said the men in police uniform had their nameplates covered by a red cloth.
The panel pointed out, Liezel admitted that she “was not able to see who shot her husband because she was already outside the house when she heard the gunshots.”
“Based on from the foregoing circumstances, it is clear that there was no eyewitness to the purported killing of Emmanuel Asuncion. Likewise, there was also nothing that directly incriminates the respondents in killing him. The complaint and its attachments merely provided mere allegations and suppositions that Emmanuel Asuncion was killed by the operatives,” the prosecutors said.
The panel even faulted the report of the SIT, composed of Dasmariñas, Cavite city prosecutors, for failure to establish the participation of respondent-cops in Asuncion’s killing.
“If at all, the discoveries made in the SIT report and the pieces of evidence submitted in the complaint only amounts to circumstantial evidence, which are broken and incomplete, to establish the probability that herein respondents killed the said subject,” it said.
Instead, the panel ruled that based on the evidence, the implementation of the search warrants on Asuncion was a legitimate operation and that he resisted arrest based on gunpowder nitrates found in his hands, as reflected in the chemistry report submitted.
The bullet holes found on the staircase and the bullet trajectories of Asuncion’s wounds, according to the panel, are “consistent with the version of the respondents that they made defensive shots from the ground floor when Emmanuel Asuncion, who was located at the second floor near the stairs, fired upon them when they were about to go upstairs to serve upon him the search warrants.”
An autopsy by forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun concluded the manner of Asuncion’s death was homicide but the panel said the autopsy “did not provide any findings or suggestion as to who caused the said injuries.”
“Moreover, the totality of the evidence and circumstances as discussed herein contravenes the suggestion that the death of Emmanuel Asuncion as homicide or murder,” reiterating that the service of the warrant was a legitimate operation.
Even assuming the cops shot Asuncion, the DOJ panel said they were in “lawful fulfillment of their duty.”
Fortun has disputed the conclusions of the DOJ panel.
“That junked paraffin test for nitrates performed by a chemist from the police crime lab. The decedent's hands were not even bagged from scene to morgue right?” she tweeted.
“Backward and upward means shots came from the ground floor, decedent was on the 2nd floor? How about victim was on the ground and shooters were at his feet? Daming possibilities kaya. Have you heard of totality of evidence? CSI, blood spatter, casings, bullet trajectories etc?” she added.
She also lamented the prosecutors’ finding that her autopsy report did not indicate who killed the labor leader: “Dapat ba sa akin yun?” (Should that be on me?)
Various groups condemned the DOJ panel’s resolution.
“Walang hustisya (No justice),” BAYAN secretary general Renato Reyes, Jr. said in a series of tweets, where he pointed out that it was former Justice Secretary and now Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra who formed a group of prosecutors to probe the killing, under the AO 35 task force for politically-motivated killings of activists.
Reyes also blasted current Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla for describing the late Asuncion as a “career helper” for communist revolutionaries.
DEFEND Southern Tagalog also condemned the dismissal of the murder raps.
“Forensic evidence pointed to signs of grisly murder. The trail of defamatory remarks and harassment against Asuncion and his organization pointed to signs of a premeditated killing. The gross number of police agents, coming from other CALABARZON police units, that went first and ransacked Asuncion’s house in Rosario before finally killing him in Dasmariñas, pointed to grave intent of chasing a sure target,” it said in a statement.
“The irony is lost on the prosecutor; Asuncion was not humanely treated on that early morning. The prosecutor’s absolution of the 17 police officers reinforces this. But seemingly the police officers’ template chorus of ‘presumption of regularity’ seemed fit for the prosecutor, even after the thousands of Tokhang cases with a reprise of the same,” it added.
The group blamed former President Rodrigo Duterte for his legacy of “kill them all,” the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Confict (NTF-ELCAC) and state agents, including the 17 police officers.
“Asuncion’s killing serves as an example to how the people are deprived of great civic leaders and how the right of organize has been twisted and supplanted by the Philippine government,” it said.
A day after the dismissal, the PNP welcomed the Justice department's decision, saying it further proves that what transpired were "legitimate" police operations.
“Nakikiramay pa rin tayo doon sa pamilya nitong naging subject ng police operation. Bagama't sa umpisa pa lang ay sinasabi natin na legitimate 'yung naging operation sa nangyari sa bandang Southern Tagalog, nirerespeto natin at it’s a welcome development on the part of the PNP na nadismiss po ng DOJ itong complaint against sa mga pulis natin” said PNP Spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo on Wednesday.
When asked on the whereabouts of the 17 police officers involved, Fajardo said she has yet to confer on the details.
“I can only presume po na until now sila ay under restrictive custody dahil ongoing po 'yung kaso at investigation, pati nga po 'yung kanilang administrative case” said Fajardo.
OTHER BLOODY SUNDAY KILLINGS
Asuncion was 1 of 9 activists killed during simultaneous pre-dawn raids in March 2021 in Cavite, Batangas, and Rizal.
Among those killed were fisherfolk leaders Chai Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista in Nasugbu, Batangas.
Evangelista’s 10-year-old child supposedly saw how they were dragged out of their cottage and brought to another house where gunshots were heard. The 2 were declared dead upon arrival at a hospital.
The NBI has filed a murder complaint with the DOJ against 17 cops in January last year.
The DOJ has not provided new information with respect to the other killings except for the deaths of Puroy dela Cruz and Randy dela Cruz in Rizal which were earlier excluded from the probe as “no cause-oriented connection was established.”
The dismissal of the murder raps in the killing of labor leader Asuncion comes a week before a high level delegation from the International Labor Organization is set to visit the country starting January 23 to investigate alleged violations of ILO Conventions 87 (freedom of association convention) and ILO Convention 98 (right to collective bargaining convention) which labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno filed as a member of the Council of Global Unions-Pilipinas. --With a report from Jorge Cariño, ABS-CBN News
Bloody Sunday, DOJ, Department of Justice, activists, Manny Asuncion, ANC, ANC promo