PHILIPPINES: Prosecution is not a political tool

The arrest and subsequent detention of four activists, including a labor lawyer, on separate occasions in October and November of this year raised serious questions regarding how public prosecutors function in the Philippines. The irregularities in the filing of charges in court and the manner in which they are dealing with cases raises the question: do they adhere to procedure or they have become a political tool?

The prosecutors have a huge responsibility, not only in prosecuting criminal offenses or of violation of laws, but also upon the accused whom they are prosecuting. The stringent rules stipulated in the Philippines’s Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, particularly with regard to Rule 110, which prosecutors are oblige to adhere to on matters involving criminal prosecution, are not merely a set of rules as to how cases should be filed in court. They are also state the rights of the accused and the form of legal protection available.

The promulgation of these rules is to ensure that anyone accused of committing a crime is laid with criminal charges that are based on factual evidence. It is the duty of the prosecutors to ensure “probable cause” as the security and the liberty of persons accused is at stake. This is apart from the prosecutor¬°¬¶s primary role of prosecuting the crimes committed. Their role is to balance the supremacy of the law while ensuring respect to the rights of the accused. They are not adversaries of the accused.

It has been widely held that a person charged for a crime should be properly informed of the nature of the offenses, his participation in the commission of the crime — directly or otherwise — and the merit of allegations, must be laid on factual evidences to satisfy “sufficient ground” to hold a person for trial. The prosecutor should not be an adversary of the person charged, as it has become widely perceived these days. They must also act according to the rules. Their actions must be justifiable.

However, when the police forcibly took labor lawyer Remigio Saladero Jr., a member of the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center (PLACE), into custody from his house in Antipolo City on October 23, he never knew that he had been charged until police arrested him. He also had no idea of the nature of the charges laid against him. He briefly disappeared after the police refused him permission to contact his family and his arrest also illustrated the manner of arrest by the police; arbitrary and irregular.

The warrant of arrest shown to him was in connection with a murder case that took place in March 2006 in Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental. The warrant that was shown to Saladero bore a name and address different from his own. In these circumstances, Saladero had been obviously deprived of any means to defend himself. Even if the person in the warrant was him, but with the wrong postal address he would still not be able to learn about the charges to defend himself or to reply to the allegations in his defense. In fact, he never received a subpoena.

Apart from the murder charges, Saladero was also being accused with the crimes of arson and conspiracy to commit rebellion, in connection with an incident in Lemery, Batangas in August 2 this year. This involved the burning of a cell site owned by Globe Telecom, a telecommunication company. In this case, Saladero was charged together with 27 other known activists in the area.

Two of Saladero’s co-accused, namely Romeo Aguilar, the coordinator of Katipunang Damayan ng Mahihirap (Kadamay); and Rogelio Galit, the spokesperson of Katipunan ng mga Magbubukid sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-Ka), are unwell and suffer from diabetes. Aguilar and Galit were charged with arson and murder charges respectively. As to how the prosecutors have been able to establish the sufficient ground and probable cause that they are involved in the crime once again requires rational explanation.

Aguilar was in his wheelchair when he came out in public to give an interview to the media on late October in which he denied that he took part in the burning of the cell site. He said he was confined at the hospital the same day the arson allegedly took place. At the time he was suffering swollen feet due to diabetes.

When the police arrested Galit from his house in Silang, Cavite, on November 3, he was reportedly bedridden. Due to his diabetes, Galit’s leg requires amputation and this was schedule in the coming days.

They are part of the reported 72 people, 30 of whom are activists and leaders of progressive organizations, charged with murder cases for the March 2006 incident. The allegation put forward on these persons and the stories of some of the accused raised serious questions as to how prosecutors are able to determine elements of crime; and how they have substantiated the factual evidence of the involvement of these persons, directly or otherwise in these crimes.

The profile of these persons charged and those subject to arrest, affiliation and background of their work, illustrates the continued pattern of targeted attacks against the activists in the country. The use of the prosecution service, by way of filing highly questionable and incomprehensible charges in court, has increased although extrajudicial killings have sharply dropped there. This illustrates the de facto use of the prosecution system against those critical of the government.

The plight of these activists and their colleagues who are forced to endure trial in questionable charges; or maybe to go in hiding, illustrates the complete contradiction to how a prosecution service should function. It has become an adversary of the accused.

Today, observers have perceived that prosecutors act as accomplices of the police in the filing of fabricated charges in court, their judgment and reasoning are incomprehensible; they are neglecting and are abusing their authority. The costly price of this abuse and their complicity to being used as a de facto political tool is the security, life and liberty of those persons falsely accused.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-283-2008
Countries : Philippines,
Issues : Prosecution system,