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Prosecution As a Political Tool in the Philippines

8 November 2008 No Comment

November 4, 2008
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PHILIPPINES: Prosecution is not a political tool

The arrest and subsequent detention of four activists, including a
labor lawyer, on separate occasions in October and November of this
year raised serious questions regarding how public prosecutors
function in the Philippines. The irregularities in the filing of
charges in court and the manner in which they are dealing with cases
raises the question: do they adhere to procedure or they have become
a political tool?

The prosecutors have a huge responsibility, not only in prosecuting
criminal offenses or of violation of laws, but also upon the accused
whom they are prosecuting. The stringent rules stipulated in the
Philippines’s Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, particularly with
regard to Rule 110, which prosecutors are oblige to adhere to on
matters involving criminal prosecution, are not merely a set of rules
as to how cases should be filed in court. They are also state the
rights of the accused and the form of legal protection available.

The promulgation of these rules is to ensure that anyone accused of
committing a crime is laid with criminal charges that are based on
factual evidence. It is the duty of the prosecutors to ensure
“probable cause” as the security and the liberty of persons accused
is at stake. This is apart from the prosecutor s primary role of
prosecuting the crimes committed. Their role is to balance the
supremacy of the law while ensuring respect to the rights of the
accused. They are not adversaries of the accused.

It has been widely held that a person charged for a crime should be
properly informed of the nature of the offenses, his participation in
the commission of the crime — directly or otherwise — and the merit
of allegations, must be laid on factual evidences to satisfy
“sufficient ground” to hold a person for trial. The prosecutor should
not be an adversary of the person charged, as it has become widely
perceived these days. They must also act according to the rules.
Their actions must be justifiable.

However, when the police forcibly took labor lawyer Remigio Saladero
Jr., a member of the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center (PLACE), into
custody from his house in Antipolo City on October 23, he never knew
that he had been charged until police arrested him. He also had no
idea of the nature of the charges laid against him. He briefly
disappeared after the police refused him permission to contact his
family and his arrest also illustrated the manner of arrest by the
police; arbitrary and irregular.

The warrant of arrest shown to him was in connection with a murder
case that took place in March 2006 in Puerto Galera, Mindoro
Oriental. The warrant that was shown to Saladero bore a name and
address different from his own. In these circumstances, Saladero had
been obviously deprived of any means to defend himself. Even if the
person in the warrant was him, but with the wrong postal address he
would still not be able to learn about the charges to defend himself
or to reply to the allegations in his defense. In fact, he never
received a subpoena.

Apart from the murder charges, Saladero was also being accused with
the crimes of arson and conspiracy to commit rebellion, in connection
with an incident in Lemery, Batangas in August 2 this year. This
involved the burning of a cell site owned by Globe Telecom, a
telecommunication company. In this case, Saladero was charged
together with 27 other known activists in the area.

Two of Saladero’s co-accused, namely Romeo Aguilar, the coordinator
of Katipunang Damayan ng Mahihirap (Kadamay); and Rogelio Galit, the
spokesperson of Katipunan ng mga Magbubukid sa Kabite
(Kamagsasaka-Ka), are unwell and suffer from diabetes. Aguilar and
Galit were charged with arson and murder charges respectively. As to
how the prosecutors have been able to establish the sufficient ground
and probable cause that they are involved in the crime once again
requires rational explanation.

Aguilar was in his wheelchair when he came out in public to give an
interview to the media on late October in which he denied that he
took part in the burning of the cell site. He said he was confined at
the hospital the same day the arson allegedly took place. At the time
he was suffering swollen feet due to diabetes.

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