The 7th division of the Philippines’ anti-graft court the Sandiganbayan has acquitted seven military and police officers from charges of illegal detention filed against them by the Morong 43, a group of health workers whom they accused of working with the communist armed group New People’s Army (NPA) in 2010.
The court’s decision was promulgated on July 1 but was only made public today.
Retired Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia, retired Maj. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, Brig. Gen. Joselito Reyes, Col. Cristobal Zaragoza, Maj. Jovily Cabading, Police Supt. Marion Balonglong, and Supt. Allan Nobleza were acquited after their request to dismiss the case was granted, reported ABS-CBN News.
The officials were accused of violating Republic Act 7438, an Act Defining the Rights of Person Arrested, Detained or Under Custodial Investigation.
The Morong 43, which is composed of doctors, nurses, midwives, and medical volunteers, were arrested on February 2010 from a resort in the town of Morong, Rizal under suspicions that they were communists. According to authorities, the group was allegedly at the resort to attend a bomb-making seminar, reported the Inquirer. However, the resort’s owner said they were in his property to attend training organized by a non-profit called Council for Health Development.
The Morong 43 were then brought to Camp Capinpin in Tanay, a nearby town, where they were detained for 10 months.
In February 2012, then-Commission on Human Rights chairwoman Leila de Lima accused the military and police of committing “psychological torture” against the health workers during their detainment. She also said that they were denied the right to a lawyer despite repeated requests.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) also said they were turned away by the authorities when they tried to speak with the Morong 43 during their detention, reported Rappler.
The Sandiganbayan said it acquitted the seven officials because it found the evidence presented against them insufficient, reported The Philippine Daily Inquirer. It said that the prosecution failed to prove that the 43 workers were prevented from speaking with lawyers from the NUPL and that the workers did not inform the officials that these lawyers were representing them.
“The prosecution [have] failed to prove that private complainants have counsel(s) of choice at the time of arrest and during detention, and that [the] accused obstructed, prevented or prohibited said private complainants from conferring with their counsel of choice,” the Sandiganbayan said.
In a statement sent to Rappler today, the NUPL slammed the Sandiganbayan’s decision.
“We cannot help but feel frustrated that a matter of reality such as our being counsel to them from day one, which fact practically everybody knows, can be obliterated by the legal fiction that we were supposedly not their counsel of choice to start with,” the group said.
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