Aetas accused of terrorism drop NUPL as legal counsel after Calida's claims

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 10 2021 10:21 PM | Updated as of Feb 11 2021 03:51 AM

MANILA (UPDATED) - The two Aetas accused of terrorism will be dropping the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL) as their legal counsel, claiming the lawyers' group was exacerbating the charges against them.

An online video posted on Facebook by the the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) on Wednesday showed brothers-in-law Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology facility in Olongapo City, criticizing NUPL for allegedly maltreating them while handling their case.

"Sa pag-tingin ko po, NUPL po … parang lumalala po yung kaso namin. Parang bumibigat din po kasi. Kagaya namin ng bayaw ko, dahil wala kaming kakayahan … bakit ganun ang pagtingin ng NUPL sa mga katutubo? Ang lupit," Gurung told interviewers of the NTF-ELCAC.

Ramos said they were frustrated with the frequent visits of investigators from the NUPL just to talk to them.

"Parang gusto ko sabihin na ayaw ko na magpa-imbistiga," he said.

The Aetas said they want the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) to represent them in their cases, alleging the NUPL was forcing them to cooperate in their investigation.

They were referring to their failed bid to intervene in the petitions challenging the Anti-Terrorism Act before the Supreme Court. The two filed a petition-in-intervention, through their lawyers at NUPL, alleging direct injury at the hands of law enforcers.

In their affidavit, Gurung and Ramos claimed they were tortured for 6 days, and that grenades, ammunition, and subversive documents were planted in their possession. 

They claimed they have “actual, material, direct and immediate interest” to intervene in the petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act, since the controversial law will also determine whether they will continue to be held in trial.

However, the Supreme Court junked their bid on Tuesday morning because of the pending criminal charges against them at a regional trial court in Olongapo. 

Solicitor General Jose Calida had tried to cancel Tuesday afternoon's oral arguments against the anti-terror law, claiming the Aetas did not want to file the petition-in-intervention and were allegedly forced to sign it in exchange for P1,000.

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta informed Calida the petition-in-intervention filed by the Aetas had already been unanimously dismissed by the high court.

The NUPL also said in a statement that the 2 Aetas couldn't have been forced to sign since "they could not read or write", and that they just affixed their thumbmarks in their petition.

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It also asserted that the Aetas' accounts of illegal arrest, torture, arbitrary detention and cruel treatment "are well-documented and they have not repudiated these," adding that Julian Oliva, legal counsel of NUPL-National, "carefully, meticulously and clearly" explained to the two what the petition-in-intervention was about, its relation, and effect on the charges against them.

"There was no coercion, force, deceit, misrepresentation, favor or any other act or omission that vitiated the free, prior and informed consent of the Aetas to agree to the filing of the Petition-in-Intervention as the well-documented (videos and photos) consultations with Atty. Oliva was conducted before a long table separated by a plastic barrier within sight and hearing distance of the BJMP guards," the lawyers' group said.

NUPL also said supposed representatives from NCIP and PAO reportedly have visited the Aetas to persuade them to cut off their relationship with the lawyer's union.

The Aetas are the first people charged with terrorism under the new Anti-Terrorism Act. The two are also charged with murder and attempted murder for killing a soldier in an alleged gunfight between the military and an alleged unit of the New People’s Army in San Marcelino, Zambales.

They have denied the allegations, saying they were in fact attempting to flee from the gunfight when soldiers arrested them and their families, after eating the lunch they were offered.--with a report from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

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