Judge who cleared peace consultants inhibits from 'Hilongos mass graves' murder case

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 21 2022 06:13 PM

MANILA — A Manila judge who cleared several peace consultants from murder charges over a mass grave discovered in Inopacan, Leyte has inhibited from handling the case, after the prosecution moved for her inhibition.

In an order dated January 14, Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 32 Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina granted the motion for inhibition accusing her of pre-judging the remaining accused in the case.

Bunyi-Medina in December granted the demurrer to evidence, essentially a motion to dismiss based on insufficiency of evidence, acquitting Satur Ocampo, Rafael Baylosis, Adelberto Silva, Norberto Murillo, Dario Tomada, Oscar Belleza, Exuperio Lloren and Vicente Ladlad.

Also cleared of 15 counts of murder were co-accused Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Tiamzon, Lino/Felomino Salazar, Presillano Beringel, Luzviminda Orillo, Muco Lubong and Felix Dumali. 

In clearing the peace consultants, Bunyi-Medina found "overwhelming contrarieties and infirmities in the testimonies of the prosecution's witnesses."

It is this same language that the prosecutor used in moving for her inhibition.

“…[T]he Order grating (sic) the Demurrer, it was stated that ‘the overwhelming infirmities noted in the testimonies of the prosecution’ witnesses ... the prosecution miserably failed to establish guilt…’ That, with these pronouncements by the Presiding Judge it is clear that she had already prejudged the charges as against Accused Rodolfo Salas,” trial prosecutor Winnie Edad said.

Salas, also known as “Kumander Bilog,” is a former Communist Party of the Philippines chairman and New People’s Army Commander.

He was arrested in Angeles City, Pampanga in February 2020 but was subsequently granted bail by the Supreme Court in March that year.

Since he was only recently arrested, his case is still undergoing trial.

Aside from asking the judge to inhibit, the prosecutor also asked that Bunyi-Medina refrain from acting on the motion for reconsideration of the December ruling.

The judge granted both pleas, inhibiting from the case and leaving it to the next judge to decide on the motion for reconsideration.

“At the very first sign of lack of faith and trust in his actions, whether well-grounded or not, the judge has no alternative but to inhibit himself from the case. The better course for the judge under such circumstances is to disqualify himself from the case,” she said citing a 2003 Supreme Court decision.

“Applying the aforementioned doctrine and without necessarily admitting the insinuation of partiality allegedly committed by the presiding judge of this Court as indicated in their Motion for Inhibition, this Court is granting the said motion,” she ruled.

The case stemmed from the discovery of a mass grave of 67 bodies in Inopacan, Leyte in 2006, only 15 of whom were identified.

Several high-ranking members of the CPP Central Committee, including CPP founder Jose Maria Sison, were also implicated in the killings, allegedly a “purge” of suspected military spies.

But Bunyi-Medina, in her December order, found that the remains of 3 of the alleged victims in the Hilongos mass graves were also allegedly uncovered in Baybay, Leyte in 2000, casting doubt on the prosecution’s case.

Activists have called the case the “traveling skeletons” case.

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