Aeta Recounts Nightmarish Encounter with the Philippines’s Anti-Terrorism Law

MANILA — On March 21, 2008 ,at 8 am, Edgar de la Cruz Candule, a 23-year-old man who belongs to an indigenous tribe Aeta, was at the house of his friend, Patricio Domino, taking breakfast in barangay (village) Carael, Botolan, Zambales, when the policemen arrived.

About 20 policemen, all of whom are attached to the Botolan Municipal Police of the Philippine National Police (PNP), were carrying long firearms and wearing full battle uniforms when they entered Patricio’s house, where they declared a raid shortly after. Edgar’s friends, who were frightened by the police arrival, had to run in different directions leaving him behind.

Edgar, who is a resident in a resettlement area of Aetas in Baguilat of the same municipality, was caught by surprise. He was not able to move as he was in a state of shock when the police came. While some of the policemen pursued his friends who were running away, the other policemen were also searching the whole house and premises.

About three to five policemen collared him and handcuffed him while two others were punching him on the chest one after the other. He was forced to admit he is a member of the New People’s Army (NPA), an illegal armed group.

Edgar was teary-eyed as he recounts his ordeal while in police custody when he was interviewed in the days following his arrest. After his arrest, Edgar was first taken to Municipal Police of Botolan before he was transferred to the Camp Conrado S. Yap in Iba, Zambales where he was held for three days.

While Edgar was in the police camp, the persons taking him in custody, who did not introduce their names and identity, had him subjected to questioning without the presence of his legal counsel.

He was placed in a room where he was punched twice on the chest. They electrocuted his abdomen and forced him to admit that he owns a caliber .45 pistol, a magazine assembly for a caliber .45 and several live ammunitions they had seized from the house from where he was taken.

Those questioning him also threatened to kill Edgar should he deny his membership with the New People’s Amy (NPA), despite also claiming that Edgar and his group had already been under surveillance for a long period of time, over their supposed terrorist activities in the area.

It was only on March 24 that Edgar was transferred to Provincial Jail in Iba, Zambales. It is learned later that he had already been charged for illegal possession of firearms, for supposedly possessing the firearms which the policemen had recovered from the house; the same firearms that the persons questioning him had forced him to admit he had owned before the prosecutor’s office

However, on 1 April prosecutor Esteban Mulon Jr., had the charge against him amended from illegal possession of firearms into violation of Section 3 (b) Article 134 for Rebellion or Insurrection and Section 6 for Accessory of the Human Security Act of 2007 (Republic Act 9372). The original charge has likewise been absorbed into the amended information.

In amending the charge against Edgar, the prosecutor handling the case, Esteban A. Mulon, Jr. resolves that;

“On 21 March 2008, said accused conspiring with persons whose identities are unknown, did then and there, willfully and openly professing himself as a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) and advocating the overthrow of the legitimate government by force of arms using unlicensed firearms and ammunitions and by inciting others to commit acts of rebellion thereby sowing and creating a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace in order to coerce the government to give in to their demands”

Edgar has been arraigned sometime in June of this year. The charges on him are presently being heard before Judge Consuelo Amog-Bocar of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 71 in Iba, Zambales.

Edgar’s case illustrates how obscure the interpretation of and the application of the Human Security Act of 2007 are. Criminal liability for an act of terrorism should only exist once it is substantially proven, under Section 3 of the law: “thereby sowing and creating a condition of widespread extraordinary fear and panic among the populace, in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand”.

However, in Edgar’s case there exists neither widespread panic nor fear, having been sown, nor was there an unlawful demand that he and his group made during the incident, where they supposedly committed the crime. When the police came into the house where he and his friends were staying they were caught by surprise and it even resulted in Edgar standing still, he was in such a state of shock during the incident.

Also, the supposed recovery of firearms from the house where the victim was at the time staying, is highly questionable. There were no information on whether or not the policemen had presented to the occupants proper court documents to allow them to conduct searches inside the house; they did not properly introduce themselves to the occupants of the house; and failed to inform the victim of his rights during arrest and while in custody of the police.

In 28 November 2007, Martin Scheinin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, expressed concern in his report, A/HRC/6/17/Add.1 p20 to 28, to several provisions of the RA 9372. Scheinin viewed the law as “not in accordance with the international human rights standards”.

Special Rapporteur Scheinin wrote that Section 3, to which Edgar is being charged: “the criminal liability (should have been) limited to clear and precise provisions in the law, so as to respect the principle of certainty of the law and ensure that it is not subject to which would broaden the scope of the proscribed conduct”. However, in Edgar’s case, the prosecutor resolved to consider his supposed admission of being a member of a rebel group and to have constituted an act of terror already.

Also, the amended information to which prosecutor Mulon has written (as underlined above) itself was a verbatim text to the provision of section 3 of the RA 9372 which the victim has supposedly violated. It has not been able to substantially proven though, as it is written in the amended information, that the victim committed the offense of terrorism.

(This story is part of the letter campaign launched by the Asian Human Rights Commission, based in Hongkong. The commission urges the public to write letters to the authorities urging for their immediate intervention in the victim’s case. Should it be established that the victim should have not been held accountable to an offense charged on him, it must be dropped and he must be released without further delay. The victim’s allegation of torture while in police custody should also be thoroughly investigated.

To support this appeal, please click here.)



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