Court drops charges against Filipino leftist leaders

Ruling a vindication for four unjustly accused people subjected to political persecution, rights groups say

Jose Torres Jr., Manila

Church and human rights groups in the Philippines have welcomed the dismissal of “trumped up” murder charges against four former leftist legislators.

A regional trial court in Nueva Ecija province, north of Manila, has ruled that “probable cause has not been established to warrant the arrest” of the four.

The court also said that facts and circumstances to prove their guilt had also not been met.

Various groups had earlier called for an end to a police manhunt for former congressmen Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casino of Bayan Muna Party, Rafael Mariano of the Anakpawis Party, and Liza Maza of the women’s party Gabriela.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed 12 years ago by two widows who accused the activists of conspiring to kill their farmer husbands.

Police records, however, showed that one farmer was killed in 2004 during a land dispute while the other was killed in a traffic accident in 2003.

“For them to stand trial and be deprived in the meantime of their liberty, however brief, would be a flagrant violation of a basic right which the courts are created to uphold,” the court said in its ruling read out by Judge Tese Wenceslao of the Palayan Regional Trial Court.

Benedictine nun Mary John Mananzan, a leading human rights defender, said on Aug. 14 that justice has won with the dismissal of the murder charges.

Sister Mary John, however, expressed hope that it will be the end of the filing of “trumped up” charges activists and government critics.

She said the arrest orders against the four activists were a form of harassment. “I personally know these four people and they could not possibly have done what they are accused of,” said the nun.

Cristina Palabay of human rights group Karapatan said the ruling was “a vindication for the four who were unjustly accused and subjected to political persecution.”

“We welcome this decision but we remain vigilant for other forms of attacks against [the activists] and other human rights defenders,” said Palabay.

She said the case against the four former legislators was “indicative” of how activists and government critics “are made vulnerable to these repressive schemes of illegally arresting leaders.”

Palabay also pointed to a list compiled by the Department of Justice in February accusing more than 600 people — including a U.N. special rapporteur — of being members of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

She called it “an underhanded maneuver, carefully and deviously wielding the law to mask repression and political persecution.

Former congressman Casino, one of the four leftist leaders, said there are at least 1,000 activists facing “trumped-up charges,” more than 700 of whom were charged under the Duterte administration.

“There is an escalation in the filing these charges against government critics,” Casino said.

He said the most recent case was that of a couple arrested in Bulacan province on Aug. 11.

Rowena and Oliver Rosales, former organizers of a government workers’ union, were charged with “illegal possession of firearms and explosives.”

The couple led campaigns for workers’ rights before resigning two years ago and starting their own business.

The police are currently detaining them after arresting them while they were on their way home from a market.