Tagum court clears 6 activists accused of murder despite not being in crime scene

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 22 2021 09:38 PM


MANILA — A court in Tagum City in Davao del Norte has dismissed a criminal charge against 6 activists who were accused of murder despite being miles away from the place where the killing took place.

Judge Sharon Rose Saracin of the Tagum City Regional Trial Court Branch 30 ordered the junking of charges against Albert Mandin, Lutgardo Jurcales, Jr., Jackie Valencia, Agnes Mesina, Reynaldo Garneng and Windel Bolinget in an order dated July 12, 2021.

Jurcales is a member of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Valencia is Karapatan national council member, Mesina is with Makabayan, Garneng is a peasant leader with Danggayan Dagiti Mannalon while Bolinget is the chairperson of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance.

The 6 were among the 11 individuals charged with murder over the death of indigenous leader Garito Tiklonay Malibato in Kapalong, Davao del Norte. 

Reinvestigation by Tagum City prosecution attorney James Noel Morente revealed that the 6 accused cleared were nowhere near Davao del Norte at the time the incident happened on March 21, 2018.

In a May 24, 2021 report, Morente said the 6 accused were able to prove they were somewhere else:

  • Mandin was in Davao City attending meetings on March 21 and conducting business transactions on March 22
  • Jurcales was in Quezon City on March 21 and 22 and in Cebu City on March 23
  • Valencia, Mesina and Garneng were in their respective residences in Northern Luzon — in Santiago City, San Francisco and Tuguegarao City in Cagayan.
  • Bolinget was preparing for Cordillera Day celebration in Baguio City where he works and in La Trinidad, Benguet where he resides.

“After a careful perusal of the records of this case, this office is constrained to dismiss the instant complaint for lack of probable cause against the aforementioned accused-movants. The said movants satisfactority presented the requisites laid down by jurisprudence for the defense of alibi to prosper,” Morente said. 

“As shown by the respective [pieces of evidence] submitted by them, the accused-movants were able to prove that they were at some other place at the time of the commission of the crime and that it was physically impossible for them to be at the locus delicti or within its immediate vicinity,” he added.

In his report, Morente asked that the case against them be dismissed due to lack of probable cause.

The court granted his plea.

“Finding the prayer for dismissal to be proper and in order, the same is hereby granted,” Judge Saracin said.

Meanwhile, she ordered the case archived until new warrants of arrest are served on the other 5 accused who remain at large:

  • Reynard Catarata alias “Kumander SM”
  • Edward Flores alias “Cesar/Pogs”
  • Simon Naogsan
  • Sergio Lumonday alias “Borjack”
  • Vilma Dalangin alias “Yek-yek”

Various human rights groups have called for the junking of what they called “trumped-up” charges against Bolinget, whose group, Cordillera Peoples Alliance, has been pushing for the rights of indigenous peoples to ancestral land, self-determination and socio-economic services.

“Amnesty International believes that the murder charge against Bolinget may be politically motivated, and part of a well-established pattern of harassment by the Philippine authorities against him,” the London-based global rights group said in February this year, as it called for an end to attacks against indigenous peoples.

“Over the years, Bolinget and the Cordillera Peoples Alliance have repeatedly attracted the ire of local authorities for their successful campaigning against mine, dam and logging projects that may have a detrimental impact on Indigenous peoples in the Cordillera region,” it added.

Bolinget was among the more than 600 names the Department of Justice submitted to a Manila court in a proscription case against the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New Peoples’ Army in 2018. His name was eventually removed from the list.

Vilified on social media and his face appearing on flyers, Bolinget was also threatened with a “shoot to kill order.” He “surrendered” to the National Bureau of Investigation in February this year.

He is one of the petitioners who filed a petition before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which remains pending.

Rights group alliance Karapatan has slammed the Philippine authorities’ supposed strategy of filing trumped up charges against activists even if they could not have been physically present in the areas where these alleged crimes took place.

They cited the case of Karapatan National chairperson Elisa Lubi and Karapatan – Southern Mindanao Region secretary general Jayvee Apiag who were accused of being involved in an alleged May 20, 2018 armed encounter between members of the New People’s Army and the Philippine Army’s 89th Infantry Battalion and 10th Infantry Division in a village in Paquibato District, Davao City.

The group said Apiag was in Tagum City interviewing the kin of an industrial worker killed by the military while Lubi, a septuagenarian, was in Metro Manila and could not have engaged in combat given her advance age and ailments such as hypertension and arthritis.

Karapatan cited several other cases of alleged judicial harassments of activists and the supposed abuse of search warrants which has led to the deaths of several activists including the incidents on Bloody Sunday.

“To date, Karapatan has documented 414 victims of extrajudicial killings and 497 victims of frustrated killings. The persistent use of search warrants to conduct police and military raids on the homes and offices of progressive leaders and activists marked by summary executions and the planting of evidence was no longer just ‘systematic:’ it has emerged as a clear pattern — an insidious modus operandi — to give legal cover to the Duterte government’s crackdown on dissent under the guise of counterinsurgency,” Karapatan’s secretary-general Cristina Palabay said in an online forum Wednesday.

“The use of search warrants to plant evidence and a likewise serial trend of filing of criminal cases against activists without their knowledge, even in far off places, has also led to arbitrary arrests and detention," she added.

"To date, there are at least 713 political prisoners, 487 of them arrested under Duterte; eleven of them are NDFP peace consultants and staff; 94 of them are sick, including those with terminal illnesses; and 130 are women."

The Supreme Court recently came out with new rules requiring law enforcers to use body-worn cameras during service of search and arrest warrants. 

It also clipped the powers of certain courts to issue search warrants by limiting its scope to within a court’s judicial region and providing that multiple applications for search warrants based on the same evidence could be a ground for their dismissal.

Lawyers’ group National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers welcomed the development as a “huge step” towards abating human rights violations.