MANILA – A Rizal court has convicted a trade union activist for illegal possession of firearms after he was allegedly caught in possession of a pistol and live ammunition in February 2018.
San Mateo, Rizal Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 76 Judge Josephine Zarate Fernandez, in an order dated May 16 but promulgated only on Monday, sentenced Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) member Marklen Maojo Maga to up to 14 years and 8 months in prison.
Police arrested Maga while watching a basketball game in San Mateo on February 22, 2018 on the basis of an arrest warrant for a murder charge in Agusan del Norte.
According to the police, Maga tried to run away but they managed to grab his backpack where they found a .45-caliber pistol and 7 live ammunition.
Maga disputed the account of the police, claiming that the gun and the ammunition were planted. He said he left his bag hanging on his bicycle which was parked outside the basketball court.
He also claimed the policemen did not show an actual copy of the warrant of arrest upon his arrest and that the warrant was addressed to one “Marlen” and not “Marklen,” his first name.
But the court ruled that Maga’s arrest and the subsequent recovery of gun and ammunition from him were both valid as it was a case of a search incidental to an arrest.
“The prosecution was able to prove that the preceding arrest is valid. The apprehending officers were armed with an Alias Warrant of Arrest when they searched for the accused,” the court said.
“The arrest being valid, the police officers could search the accused. A bodily search or a search within the reach of the arrestee is necessary after the arrest. This is for the apprehending officers to seize weapons with which the arrestee might use to escape or commit violence or to prevent the destruction of evidence or fruits of the crime,” it explained.
The court dismissed Maga’s defense that he was not in actual possession of his backpack and that the evidence was planted.
“If the bag was nowhere near the accused before the arrest, the police officers could not have confiscated it. The bag has no differentiating marks which would identify it with the accused. The police officers were only able to know that it belonged to the accused because the latter tried to run away with the bag as they went near him,” it said.
The court also found Maga was had no authority to possess the loaded pistol and neither was he authorized to carry a firearm.
It ordered Maga’s transfer to the New Bilibid Prison to serve his sentence and the forfeiture in favor of the government of the gun and the ammunition.
In a statement, rights group Karapatan, who assisted Maga, condemned the decision, insisting that the evidence was planted.
“Who would carry a 45-caliber gun while dropping your son to school and subsequently, while playing basketball? This scenario can only make sense in the eyes of twisted operatives who are determined to incriminate an innocent man for his activism,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.
She claimed the murder charge in Agusan del Norte, which was the basis for Maga’s arrest, is fabricated as he had never been to the area.
For Palabay, Maga’s arrest was related to his work as a trade union activist and is part of a larger crackdown on human rights activists and trade unionists.
“We firmly stand against the weaponization of the law and the courts to politically persecute activists. Maga’s case should have been dismissed, and his false conviction should be overturned. Maoj is a trade union activist. He is not a criminal, he is not a terrorist. This decision furthers the injustice inflicted on Maoj and his family, and it puts our entire justice system to shame,” she said.