A Bacolod court has convicted 2 military personnel of murder over the 2010 killing of an activist in Negros Occidental.
Bacolod City Regional Trial Court Branch 42 Judge Ana Celeste Bernad sentenced Roger Bajon and Ronnie Caurino to reclusion perpetua or 40 years in prison over the murder of Benjamin Bayles, a Bayan Muna coordinator and a member of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.
Bajon and Caurino were also ordered to pay the heirs of Bayles P300,000 in indemnity and damages.
Bayles was shot on June 14, 2010 in Himamaylan City in Negros Occidental by 2 men on board a motorcycle.
Bayles’ companion, John Rey Mayongue, testified that he saw the two men, wearing helmets, shoot Bayles one after the other — Bajon first, then Caurino.
Bayles immediately fell to the ground and onto the canal, Mayongue said.
A tricycle driver who also saw what happened corroborated Mayongue’s statement.
Despite running for his life in the rice fields, Mayongue told the court he was able to identify the motorcycle the two gunmen were riding on, the clothes they wore, even the long hair of Bajon, and the direction they were heading.
When the Kabankalan City police arrested the two gunmen, Mayongue identified them based on the clothes they were wearing and the built of their body.
The Bacolod court gave credence not only to Mayongue’s and the tricyce driver’s testimonies but also to the statements of another prosecution witness who identified the two as part of a team of military men who had previously asked about Bayles and his ties with progressive group Bayan Muna.
“To be sure, an examination of the testimonies made by the prosecution witnesses reveals that their identification of accused as the culprit behind the June 14, 2010 incident was clear,” the court said, rejecting the accused’s claim that there was no positive identification because the two gunmen were wearing helmets.
“[T]he positive identification forms part of circumstantial evidence, which, when taken together with other pieces of evidence constituting an unbroken chain, leads to a fair and reasonable conclusion that the accused is the author of the crime to the exclusion of all others,” it said.
The 2 accused, who eventually admitted to being members of the Philippine military intelligence division and using fictitious names, said they were merely passing through the area and denied shooting Bayles.
Caurino, whose real name is Reygine Laus, said he did not fire any shot that day as his gun was being repaired
Both Caurino and Bajon, Rafael Cordova in real life, presented negative paraffin test results to show the absence of gun powder nitrates on their hands.
But the court rejected the denial, alibi and the evidence of the accused.
A forensic firearm examiner testified that contrary to Caurino’s claim, the 2 guns recovered from the accused were able to fire and were capable of killing a person.
“Accused makes capital of the results of the negative paraffin test and ballistic examination showing that the three (3) slugs recovered from the scene of the crime were not fired from their personal firearm. Accused personal firearm were not necessarily the one he used to shoot the victim. The fact that the ballistic examination revealed that the slugs were fired from another .45 caliber does not disprove one’s guilt. As members of the Philippine Army Intelligence Division, accused could have easily used different .45 caliber firearms. It was also possible that they surrendered to the police a firearm different from the one they actually used to kill the victim,” it said.
The court considered “unreliable” the paraffin test result, giving more weight to positive identification.
“Paraffin tests, in general, have been rendered inconclusive by this Court. Scientific experts concur in the view that the paraffin test was extremely unreliable for use. It can only establish the presence or absence of nitrates or nitrites on the hand; however, the test alone cannot determine whether the source of the nitrates or nitrites was the discharge of a firearm,” it said.
Instead, the court considered treachery as a qualifying circumstance to make the crime murder instead of homicide because of the “swift, deliberate and unexpected attack using firearms” which prevented the possibility for escape or defense.
The court also found out that the 2 accused are not firearm license holders of any caliber.
Bayan Muna welcomed the decision, calling it “a much awaited good news in this time of wanton red-tagging.”
“We will continue to pursue justice, not just for our fallen comrades, but for all those who are oppressed, exploited and victims of state impunity no matter how long it takes,” House deputy minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said in a statement.
“This is crystal clear message to human rights violators: impunity is not forever - the long arm of justice and accountability will catch up with you eventually. Make no mistake about it,” he added.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, the counsel for the Bayles family, noted it took more than a decade before the 2 army personnel were convicted.
In the course of the trial, one of their handling lawyers, Ben Ramos, was also shot and killed by 2 unidentified gunmen in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental in November 2018.
“This is for you, Ben Bayles and Ben Ramos, the latter who was with us to see this through before he himself was killed in 2018,” NUPL President Edre Olalia said in a statement.
“This is a clear message and warning to those who think there is immunity for impunity. But most of all, this is for those still waiting for justice to be served. Have faith. It will come somehow, sometime,” he added.