PHILIPPINES: Abadilla Five’s nearly 13-year-old complaint over rights abuses must be filed in court at once

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) writes to draw your attention to the complaint of five men, known as the Abadilla Five, pending before your office. The case, which bears Case No. OMB-P-C-041269/CLP-C-04-1965 (“CHR, et al. vs. S/Supt. Romulo Sales et al”), was endorsed by the Department of Justice (DoJ) in January 2003 for your appropriate action. 

As you are aware, the complaint was based on the findings of the investigation that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) had conducted nearly 13 years ago, in July 1996. In concluding their investigation, the CHR already recommended the filing of charges against Police Senior Superintendents Romulo Sales and Bartolome Baluyot and several police officers attached to the defunct Task Force Rolly. They are the police officers who were responsible for arbitrarily arresting, detaining, torturing and filing of charges against the detainees for the murder of Colonel Rolando Abadilla. 

Even before the DoJ endorsed the complaint to your office, it already failed to have it resolved promptly whether or not charges should be filed in court. For instance, the public prosecutor formerly investigating the CHR’s complaint, Marilyn Campomanes, never acted on the case for about five years. 

Also, when the DoJ first dismissed the complaint the CHR has filed in 21 August 2001 on the ground of subjudice, the victims’ legal counsel had to file petition to have the DoJ’s decision reconsidered, which they had acted upon on their favor when it have it reviewed on January 2003. When it was reviewed, though the DoJ concluded the respondents could be charged for violation of the victims rights, in particular Articles 263, 286, 124 and 125 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) and the Republic Act RA 7438 against the policemen involved, they did not rule on the allegations of torture. 

The nature of charges that the DoJ endorsed to your office should be filed against the respondents constitutes violations for grave coercion, physical injuries, arbitrary detention, delay in the delivery of detained persons, rights of persons arrested and detained under custodial investigation. But the victims’ legal counsel though and the CHR filed a petition earlier with the DoJ asking them to include the allegations of torture in filing of the complaint. This, however, is yet to be acted upon. 

Apart from needless delay on part of the DoJ for them to be able to establish probable cause, what is disappointing is also your office’ failure to immediately conclude the complaint by way of completing its investigation and to rule whether or not to affirm the DoJ recommendations. We are aware that before the complaint is filed in court, it requires your office’s approval; however, your office’ failure to perform duties expected from your end is completely unacceptable. 

As you are aware, before this complaint reached your office, it has already suffered five years needless delay as well while it was with the public prosecutor, Marilyn Campomanes. Had Campomanes not been charged and subsequently punished with suspension for her failure and neglect in resolving the complaint promptly, it would not have progressed at all. 

Thus, given the previous experiences, the victim’s complaint could no longer afford further delay before your office’ level. However, yet again to our knowledge, it once again needlessly suffers delay. Since the DoJ endorsed the complaint to your office for appropriate, your office fails to act on it and the case never had any progress at all. The last information to which the victims’ legal counsel came was in 16 July 2007 informing the latter that it is “still pending for preliminary investigation”. 

We fail to comprehend that for nearly 13 years, the charges for violation of rights committed upon the complaints have remained to have not been filed in court; and no action were taken against those responsible for their suffering. The DoJ and your office’ failure to act on this promptly deprives the victims from seeking possibilities of redress to their grievances. In fact, some of the respondent police officers have already been able to retire from police service without being held to account and some have already died also. None of those respondents were held to account. 

Your office’ failure to have this case resolved and filed in court promptly did not only deprived the victims of their right to have their grievances acted upon, it ilikewise llustrates how trivial the attention your office are giving to the findings and recommendation of the CHR, in particular oncases involving security forces committing human rights abuses. We therefore urged you, to act on the DoJ’s and the CHR’s recommendation to satisfy the victim’s grievances; otherwise, continued failure from doing so your office would continue to become complicit to depriving complainants redress they urgently requires. 

We once again call your attention, on behalf the Abadilla Five namely Lenido Lumanog, Augusto Santos, Cesar Fortuna, Joel and Rameses de Jesus, to exhaust all means to ensure that your office wold resolve promptly the complaint that they have filed at once.

Yours sincerely, 

MOON Jeong Ho 
Programme Officer 
Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OLT-001-2009
Countries : Philippines,
Campaigns : Abadilla 5