'Clandestine visits' led to change of counsel for 2 Aetas accused of terrorism

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 11 2021 02:17 PM

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MANILA - Two Aetas detained and accused of terrorism have replaced their lawyers after being visited by counsel not affiliated with the National Union of People’s Lawyers, the group said Thursday.

Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos 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 in August last year.

On Tuesday, Solicitor General Jose Calida tried to cancel 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 the petition in exchange for 1,000 pesos.

The Supreme Court junked the Aetas’ bid on Tuesday morning because of the pending criminal charges against them at a regional trial court in Olongapo. 

The two Aetas are also dropping the services of the NUPL, saying they will now be taking on the services of the Public Attorney's Office. 

In an interview, Atty. Bonifacio Cruz, former lead counsel of the 2 Aetas, said it is the right of the client to choose their lawyer. 

However, he denied Calida's allegations that the NUPL bribed the 2 to file the petition-in-intervention in exchange for 1,000 pesos. 

"We did not see any documents for that matter kaya hindi kami pwedeng mag comment. It’s the allegation of the Solicitor General. But definitely, there is no P1000 bribe given to the Aetas. Walang pamimilit. Hindi namin sila pinuwersa dahil kami ang tumutulong sa kanila,” Cruz said in an interview on ANC’s Matters of Fact. 

He added that before Calida's motion, several lawyers visited Gurung and Ramos in detention in order to convince them to drop the NUPL as counsel. 

“Actually, may mga abugadong nagpupunta doon, nagpapakilalang abugado samantalang kami 'yung counsel on record, which is unethical on the part of lawyers. Dapat nagpasintabi sila kung sino ang counsel on record bago nila puntahan 'yung mga akusado,” he said.

"Clandestine na pagkilos 'yan para mawala sa NUPL ang representasyon ng mga katutubong minorya na inaresto at kinasuhan sa paglabag sa Anti-Terrorism Act."

Cruz said they talked to the 2 Aetas on Wednesday and asked them why they switched lawyers. 

“Simple lang ang salita ni Junior, nalilito na po kami. Ang dami nang lumalapit. Talagang pinilit nilang kuhanin,” he said.

He added: "Hindi kami nagagalit sa kanila dahil nais namin silang tulungan. Umayaw sila sa amin, nagmaganda pa kaming nagpaalam sa kanila na manatili lang na sabihin nila 'yung totoo."

Cruz also denied claims that the 2 Aetas were bribed with P1,000 to sign the petition in intervention. He said the money was not a bribe but instead given to them to use to buy food inside the jail.

“Hindi namin sila pwedeng pilitin dahil kami, bilang abugado, nag-iisip kami ng remedy na magiging paborable sa aming mga kliyente at isa 'yung naisip naming petition na for intevention na makakatulong sa kanilang kaso,” he said.

He believes now that the 2 Aetas are not in the position to speak up and choose what’s best for them.

“Maliwanag pa sa sikat ng araw na sila ay nakakulong, kontrolado sila sa loob at wala silang kontrol sa sarili nilang kalayaan. Kapit sa patalim ang mga kapatid nating minorya para sabihin o tumanggi na hindi, sa NUPL pa rin kami kasi sila 'yung mga abugadong sa simula ay tumulong sa amin,” he said.

In November of 2020, Cruz said relatives of the 2 Aetas sought their help in the case.
 
“Hindi kami ang naghanap sa kanila para sila ay tulungan sa kanilang mga kaso. We are officers of the court and our duty is to defend our client at all cost,” he said.

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