A Nueva Ecija court has issued warrants for the arrest of four former militant lawmakers for murder in 2006.
Palayan City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 40 Judge Evelyn Atienza-Turla issued the arrest warrants for anti-poverty chief Liza Maza and former agrarian reform secretary Rafael Mariano along with former Bayan Muna party-list representatives Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casiño.
Turla signed the order on July 11, ordering the arrest of the four former lawmakers for the murders of farmers Danilo Felipe, Carlito Bayudang and Jimmy Peralta in 2001 and 2004, respectively.
The case was filed against the four in 2006 before the Palayan City RTC.
Lawyer Racher Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center yesterday confirmed the issuance of the arrest warrants.
Pastores said the four accused are “weighing all options,” including surrendering to the authorities.
She claimed the 12-year-old case was baseless and should have been dismissed after Turla had earlier ruled there was no probable cause to charge the four and ordered a further investigation.
In 2008, the case was ordered remanded to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor as “the proper procedure in the conduct of the preliminary investigation was not followed” and the prosecutors should conduct a proper preliminary investigation.
The four respondents questioned the move before the Supreme Court (SC), saying the cases against them should be dismissed if the court did not find probable cause.
In February 2017, the SC partially granted the respondents’ petition, saying sending the cases back to the prosecutor was improper.
Reports said the SC then remanded the case to the Palayan City RTC “for further proceedings with due and deliberate dispatch in accordance with this decision.”
Maza issued a statement denouncing what she called “continuing political persecution by rightists and militarists who yield influence in the administration under President Duterte.”
She said the administration is trying to remove leftist leaders one by one, but stressed she will continue implementing reforms in the government in her position as the head of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.
Ocampo, for his part, said the case filed against them deserves a second look in terms of justice and fairness.
Bayan Muna party-list chairman Neri Colmenares said they are appealing not to implement the warrant while a motion for reconsideration is pending with the Palayan RTC.
Colmenares said they are concerned with the safety of the four accused and appealed to respect the lives and safety of the four leaders.
Former social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo appealed to her erstwhile colleagues in the Cabinet to protect the rights of the accused.
Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), warned this incident would have repercussions on the peace process with the communists.
Other militant groups demanded the dismissal of the murder case.
“We also call for the dismissal of the trumped-up charges on which it is based and junking of all similarly bogus cases against other political prisoners and targets for persecution of the Duterte administration,” Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said in a statement.
“The collusion between Duterte and convicted plunderer Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was also exposed with Arroyo’s forcible installation as House Speaker, leaving no doubt as to why these trumped-up cases against Ocampo, Maza, Casino and Mariano have been suddenly resurrected,” KMU added.
Malacañang, however, stressed it had nothing to do with the arrest order.
“The matter is still with the Regional Trial Court. The Palace will continue to respect the independence of our courts. We should therefore let the legal process run its course,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
The Philippine National Police (PNP), for its part, said they are mandated to implement the arrest order against the four.
“We will implement it once we obtain copies of the warrants,” PNP’s National Capital Region Police Office director Chief Supt. Guillermo Eleazar said.
Arrest order issued vs 4 ex-party-list lawmakers for farmers’ murders
4/ 5Oleh BNP Correspondent