PHILIPPINES: Torture victims acquitted after eight year trial

Hong Kong, November 2, 2010) The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is pleased to inform you that the four men, three of whom were illegally arrested and detained, were acquitted by a local court from two charges of illegal possession of explosives. The court found that the cases laid against them “exhibits a straightforward violation of due process”.

Three of the accused, Jejhon Macalinsal, Abubakar Amilhasan and Arsul Ginta, were illegally arrested during a police raid on April 24, 2002 in Barangay (village) Calumpang, General Santos City. They were charged with illegal possession of explosives using the evidence planted by the policemen who were led by Police Superintendent Bartolome Baluyot, former director of the Regional Police Office (PRO XII). The evidence was planted at the house where the accused were staying during the arrest.

In his 16 page decision read in open court on October 29, 2010, Judge Oscar Noel Jr., presiding judge of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), ruled that, “As gleaned from records of these cases the pieces of evidence presented by the prosecution fall short of the constitutional guarantee, the execution of search warrants suffers from several fatal flows, equally deadly”.

The violations that the policemen have committed were:

1. Use of false witnesses: When the police served the court order (search warrant) to search the houses where the accused where staying, the two village officials who stood as witnesses were legally unacceptable. Searches can only be valid when the place to be searched is within the jurisdiction of these village officials.

But the two officials, Sabina Castomayor and Jose Arrojo, who came with the policemen when they implemented the order, were officials of Barangay Labangal not Calumpang. Under the procedure in conducting searches, policemen are required to have village officials from the same village to be present as witnesses.

2. Scheming and planting of evidence: The issuance by another court of an order to conduct searches, which justified the policemen to conduct searches at the houses at 3am on April 24, 2002, were also a product of scheming by the policemen and a prelude to their planting of evidence on the accused all along.

Firstly, at 11am on April 23, 2002, a day before the policemen raided the house two gunmen entered one of the three houses wearing balaclavas. Once inside, one of them gave Jejhon Macalinsal, one of the four accused, a piece of paper with a telephone number written on it. He was forced to dial the telephone number and tell the person on the other end that: “There’s a bomb in the front and at the back of their office”. The gunmen later left after they made sure that Macalinsal had done it.

The telephone number was later found to belong to the office of Bayan Telecommunications (BayanTel), a local telecommunication company in the city. The company had a caller Identification System in their telephone system which enabled them to accurately determine the telephone number used in calling and the name of the subscriber that the telephone is registered to.

The policemen used the said record of the phone call and subscription to deliberately falsely charge the four accused. In his numerous media interviews, Supt. Baluyot declared them as responsible in bombing Fitmart Mall in General Santos City on April 21, 2002. But strangely, none of the accused was charged with murders in relation to the death of civilians in that bombing incident.

Secondly, the scheming justified the policemen’s application of search orders from Judge Antonio Lubao of RTC, Branch 22 in the same city, claiming that the occupants of the house were keeping M14 and M16 armalite riles. The court then issued orders for policemen to search the house owned by Aron Sala. Sala was not physically present during the raid but was included in the charges.

Sala was studying in Marawi City, more than ten hours travel from General Santos City where the raid took place.

3. Arbitrary inclusion of the accused in the cases: Aron Sala’s name was arbitrarily included for the simple reason that the telephone number used by Macalinsal to make a fake bomb threat upon the instruction of the armed men is registered in his name. The phone call and subscription were used by the policemen as evidence in justifying their application for the issuance of the court order to search Sala’s house.

When the police conducted the raid they also searched the two other houses that were not part of the court’s order. The policemen also prevented the three accused and the occupants from supervising what they were doing inside the house when they were conducting the searches.

The policemen who stood as witnesses for the prosecution did not deny or challenge the claim of the accused that they were not in possession of the evidence used on them–a mortar and a grenade. The court ruled that they were planted and taken inside the house by “three persons wearing black bonnets and combat shoes who entered the compound together with the raiding team who threw a sack full of something in the house of one of the accused’s mother-in-law.”

4. Policemen could not identify the accused in court: During the court hearing, the two policemen, Senior Police Officer 1 (SPO1) Rex Diongon and Police Inspector (PI) Harrison Martinez, who served the search orders, “did not point categorically where in particular they seized the pieces of evidence they presented in support of their cases”. Martinez could also not identify in open court which one was Amilhasan and which one was Macalinsal.

5. Police try to extort money in exchange for dropping cases: On May 12, 2002, while Arsul Ginta was in custody he was approached by three persons who introduced themselves as police officers. He was told that they were given instructions by Supt. Baluyot to negotiate the dropping of charges against him. He was told that the policemen could withdraw from prosecuting the complaint if he paid Php 150,000 (USD 3,500). But Ginta refused to do so.

Before Supt. Baluyot retired from the police service he had previous records of having involvement in illegally arresting, detaining, planting evidence and torturing persons arrested during police operations. He is also one of the policemen the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) found to have tortured and violated the rights of the Abadilla Five while they were in police custody.

Read this statement for more details: Abadilla Five’s nearly 13-year-old complaint over human rights violation remains pending at the Ombudsman

Although the four accused have been acquitted from these charges, they are still being tried for charges of illegal possession of firearms before the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) Branch 3 in the same city. The evidence that the policemen and the prosecutors used in this case was also planted; and used in the case in which the accused had already been acquitted from.

In an interview conducted in Tagalog with Abina Rombaoa, one of the relatives of the accused, by the AHRC, Abina speaks about the court’s decision, the suffering of the accused and their families:

Link to YouTube video:

For more details about the case, visit our previous appeal:

Trial of three men yet to begin after three years

Delay in trial due to possible neglect by the court and prosecutor

Court commences trial of three men due to pressure following frequent postponement

Trial of torture victims’ case postponed yet again

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PRL-026-2010
Countries : Philippines,
Issues : Torture,