MANILA – The Supreme Court said Monday it had granted a plea for the temporary release of former communist New People’s Army leader Rodolfo Salas alias Kumander Bilog.
In a resolution, the Supreme Court Third Division granted the bail petition of Jody Salas for his father, Rodolfo Salas, who was arrested last Feb. 18 over his alleged role in a “purge” of NPA members from 1985 to 1992.
Prosecutors charged Salas with 15 counts of murder following 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 of what were suspected to be military spies.
The high court ordered Salas’ provisional release from the Philippine capital's city jail upon posting a cash bond of P200,000 at the Manila Regional Trial Court where the multiple murder cases are pending.
Salas’ son had filed a habeas corpus petition a few days after his arrest in February, arguing he was illegally arrested, deprived of his right to due process and his right against double jeopardy violated, citing his prior conviction for rebellion in 1991. He had served jailtime for 6 years.
Salas’ lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group argued that the crime of rebellion absorbed all common crimes including murder under the political offense doctrine which the Supreme Court enforced in the separate cases against writer and labor leader Amado Hernandez and former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.
They also invoked Salas’ plea bargaining agreement in 1991 which, his lawyers claim, shielded him from future prosecutions for acts committed in furtherance of rebellion.
But SC magistrates, during oral arguments on March 12, questioned whether the multiple murder acts Salas is currently accused of were included in his original rebellion conviction, noting that the incident in Inopacan, Leyte was not mentioned in the rebellion charge.
They also pointed out that the period when Operation Venereal Disease allegedly took place from 1985 to 1992 did not coincide with the period when Salas supposedly committed rebellion – from 1968 until his arrest in 1986.
“Can you bargain for offense committed in the future? Can you plea bargain for offense you do not know?,” SC Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang asked Salas’s lawyer, Arno Sanidad, referring to the late discovery of the mass graves only in 2006.
Sanidad insisted that the acts were supposedly committed in 1985, well within the period when Salas committed rebellion, and the specific acts need not be specified in the earlier charge.
SC Third Division Chair Associate Justice Marvic Leonen for his part pointed out that it was not yet clear if those killed were soldiers, spies or civilians and whether the killings were done in furtherance of rebellion.
The burden of demonstrating political motivation of political crimes is on the defense, he said, which can only be done during trial.
The main habeas corpus petition is still pending but the SC Third Division already denied Salas’ plea for a temporary restraining order or injunction to stop the multiple murder cases before the Manila RTC, in the same order dated March 12.
In granting Salas bail, the Supreme Court referred to the bail it granted in 2014 to former Bayan Muna congressman Satur Ocampo over the same case.
Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo had suggested during the oral arguments invoking the 2015 SC ruling granting Enrile bail on humanitarian grounds.
Enrile was 91 when he was granted bail while Salas is 72, “not healthy” according to Sanidad.
But Sanidad said the Ocampo ruling was the SC ruling closest to Salas’ case.
SC had given parties 5 days from March 12 to file their memoranda and Salas was expected to be arraigned on March 17, Tuesday.
But on Monday, the high court suspended all court hearings nationwide until April 15 and extended all deadlines for 30 days from April 16 for court filings, in light of efforts to address the rapid spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19.
Urgent matters like posting of bail was not however suspended.
Supreme Court, NPA leader Kumander Bilog, Kumander Bilog bail, bail petition, NPA, New People's Army, CPP, communist, Rodolfo Salas