PHILIPPINES: Re: Abadilla Five’s nearly 13-year-old complaint over human rights violation remains pending at the Ombudsman

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) writes to once again draw your attention to the complaint of five men, known as the Abadilla Five, for violation of rights which the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) had investigated nearly 13 years ago in July 1996. 

In the conclusion of the CHR’s investigation, it 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 charges against the detainees for the murder of Colonel Rolando Abadilla. 

Even before the complaint, 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) to the Office of the Ombudsman for Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO) where it is presently pending, the former has already failed to have it endorsed to the Ombudsman for their approval whether or not the charges should be filed against the respondents in court. 

When the DoJ first dismissed the complaint the CHR filed in 21 August 2001 on the ground of subjudice, the victims’ legal counsel filed petition to have the DoJ’s decision reconsidered, which was acted upon on their favor when it reopened the case only on January 2003. After it was reviewed, though the DoJ has concluded that 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 the Ombudsman that 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 the latter to include the allegations of torture in the filing of the complaint which 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 the continued failure and delay on part of the Ombudsman for them to immediately conclude the case by way of completing its investigation for them to rule on whether or not to affirm the DoJ recommendations in the filing of charges in court. We are aware that before the complaint is filed in court, it requires the Ombudsmans’ approval; however, their failure to perform duties expected from them promptly is completely unacceptable. 

As you are aware, before this complaint reached the Ombudsman’s level, it has already suffered five years needless delay as well when the public prosecutor, Marilyn Campomanes, had neglected her duties when she failed to have the complaint resolved in her level. For five years, she obviously fails to conclude the investigation of the complaint. Had Campomanes not been charged and subsequently punished with suspension for her failure, the complaint would not have progressed at all. 

Thus, given the previous experiences, the victim’s complaint could no longer afford further delay before the Ombudsman’s level. However, yet again to our knowledge, it once again needlessly suffers delay before their office. Since the DoJ endorsed the complaint to them for their appropriate action in January 2003, the Ombudsman fails to act on it and the case never had any progress at all. The last information to which the victims’ legal counsel came to know 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. 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 died already. None of them were held to account. 

The Ombudsman’s 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 also illustrates how trivial the attention the Ombudsman is responding to the CHR’s findings and recommendation on cases involving security forces committing human rights abuses. We urged the CHR into taking proactive role by ensuring the Ombudsman does their work to satisfy the victim’s grievances; otherwise, the CHR’s ability to ensure the protection of rights to victims of abuses would continue to be challenged. 

We once again call your attention, on behalf the Abadilla Five namely Lenido Lumanog, Augusto Santos, Cesar Fortuna, Joel and Rameses de Jesus, to ensure that the Ombudsman resolves without further delay their complaint in compliance to the CHR’s recommendations. We also urge the CHR to ensure that the complainants are given adequate assistance they require in pursuing their case.

Yours sincerely, 

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

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OLT-002-2009
Countries : Philippines,
Campaigns : Abadilla 5