Court Starts Hearing Tagaytay 5 Bail Petition

After more than two years of being abducted and detained, the Tagaytay 5 finally had their day in court as the latter started hearing their petition for bail.

Vol. VIII, No. 22, July 6-12, 2008

The Tagaytay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 18 has started hearing the Tagaytay 5’s petition for bail after more than two years of their being abducted and detained.

Judge Erwin Larida Jr. started hearing the case last July 4 and is expected to hold hearings in the succeeding Fridays of July. The Tagaytay 5 is composed of Axel Pinpin, a consultant of the Kalipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-Ka or Association of Peasants in Cavite) and a poet who was a fellow in the 1999 University of the Philippines (UP) National Writers’ Workshop; Riel Custodio, a Kamagsasaka-Ka member; Aristides Sarmiento, a freelance researcher for various non-government organizations; and Tagaytay City residents Enrico Ybañez and Michael Masayes.

The series of hearings follow their June 16 arraignment for the crime of rebellion, to which the five entered a “Not Guilty” plea.

The five were abducted by a composite Philippine Navy and Philippine National Police (PNP) team on April 28, 2006 in Tagaytay City.

Pinpin, Custodio and Sarmiento had just come from a meeting with coffee farmers in the city and were on their way to Manila for the forthcoming Labor Day rally. They had hired Ybañez as their driver while Masayes accompanied Ybañez.

Three days after, they were presented to the media as “communist rebels” who were conspiring with “dissident soldiers” in an alleged plot to “destabilize” the Arroyo administration. They were subsequently charged with rebellion.

Pinpin, Custodio, and Sarmiento said that they expect the prosecution together with their PNP “abductors-torturers” to “demonize” them to secure a conviction – which, under the Revised Penal Code, carries a penalty of reclusion perpetua (20 years and one day to 40 years in detention).

“The prosecution and the PNP will again publicly peddle their pack of lies and life-threatening intrigues,” they said. “They will again cover up the truth about the case of the Tagaytay 5 in order to get their much-awaited judicial victory against ‘bomb-wielding communists-terrorists out to destabilize’ the corrupt and fascist Arroyo regime. They will repeatedly gloss over substantive issues and matters of judicial principles such as the human rights violations committed by government authorities during our abduction, interrogation, incommunicado status, prolonged detention, and delays in the judicial process, in order to consign us to perpetual silence and public oblivion.”

They vowed, however, to assert “rigorously” the following “truth(s) and substantive issues”:

· That they were waylaid and abducted by more or less 60 heavily armed men without necessary warrants on April 28, 2006; hence violating their basic right against arbitrary arrest;

· That they were not carrying guns or explosives of any kind at the time of their abduction, yet the list of evidence showed that they were in possession of one handgun; but all their personal belongings (including dentures and flashlights) and money totaling almost P800,000 (or ¥1,904,700 or $18,300) were missing and never accounted to them, an act which they said is “tantamount to highway robbery by law enforcement agents” and which violates their right against unlawful search and seizures;

· That they were shuttled to various military camps and safe houses, where they were repeatedly interrogated against their will and without counsel – acts which violate the basic rights of arrested persons under the Miranda Doctrine and judicial guarantees against illegal detention;

· That they were physically and psychologically tortured, having been hidden from their families, lawyers and friends for seven days and nights, to enable their abductors to extract extrajudicial confessions, again without the aid of counsel of their choice; thus violating their rights against torture and self-incrimination;

· That they were “persecuted” in a court after being held for more than 100 hours without charges, thus violating basic rights against illegal detention;

· That they we were detained and padlocked 24/7 in a police camp with no provisions for sunlight and outdoor exercises for 10 months, thus endangering their health and welfare; and that it took a 67-day fasting/hunger strike to gradually improve their detention conditions; and

· That their court hearings are few and far between, and are often postponed “for whatever flimsy reason,” thus prolonging their hardships, and “effectively silencing some critics and dissenters of the current regime.”

Pinpin, Custodio, and Sarmiento also said that on several occasions during the 26 months since their being charged with rebellion, the prosecution and the PNP were asked to present all necessary evidence and affidavits.

“But all the prosecution can show are three joint testimonies packed with lies and half-truths on what really happened on that fateful night of April 28, 2006 – full of loopholes, self-serving alibis, pock-marked with hearsays and afterthoughts, and coached assertions,” they said. “The prosecutors haven’t produced in court any credible evidence to buttress their trumped-up rebellion charge – for they have none, and have nothing to hold on to; for it is cardinal rule in criminal proceedings that any illegally obtained evidence is inadmissible in court, and that planting of evidence against any suspect is punishable by law as incriminatory machination.” Bulatlat

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