CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – In two separate resolutions, the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 7 in Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur rescinded the warrants of arrest and dismissed the serious illegal detention and kidnapping charges to 17 rights defenders and peace advocates here.
Judge Fernando Fudalan of RTC Branch 7 in his resolution dated June 10, 2021 trashed the warrants of arrest issued to the 17 individuals for being null and void citing the inadequate affidavits filed by two soldiers and 12 militiamen.
The same judge also dismissed the kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges against the same accused on October 8, 2021.
The accused, Teresita Naul, Aldeem Yañez, Ireneo Udarbe, Francisco Pagayaman, Ophelia Tabacon, Jumorito Guaynon, Jerry and Gerald Basahon, Aida Ibrahim, Mylene Coleta, Hanilyn Cepedes, Ritchel Hilogon, Cecilia Acenas, Wildon Barros, Reywynx Morgado, Mujahid Caballero, and Vicente Libona, were charged with destructive arson, kidnapping, robbery with violence or intimidation.
The accused are working for human rights, farmers, workers, urban poor, Lumad, rural development, health and teachers progressive organizations in Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon.
The Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) Cagayan de Oro chapter which assisted the Sibagat cases said the court’s declaration that facts and circumstances obtained in the cases proved the accused did not commit any of the offenses charged against the activists and peace advocates.
Czarina Gołda Musni, UPLM secretary general, said the Court noted the delay was unreasonable citing the “instant case dragged from more than a year solely for the purpose of reinvestigation – a procedure that should be part of the preliminary investigation.”
“The UPLM viewed the resolutions as a clear rebuke of the prosecution, in observing that a period of more than one year to process reinvestigation is appositely unreasonable stretch of time for a case of kidnapping and serious illegal detention which does not involve issues of much complexity. The prosecution in spite of delay did not offer explanation whatsoever to justify its inaction,” read part of the UPLM statement.
The UPLM lauded Judge Fudalan for his judicial probity and courage in dismissing the Sibagat cases that accorded justice to the victims of state harassments and persecution for advocating social justice and respect for the right to life and dignity and in upholding the rule of law.
In these two resolutions, Teresita Naul, a UPLM staff and a founding member of Karapatan, was released from detention on October 26, 2021 after being incarcerated for a year and seven months at the provincial jail in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur.
Naul, 64, told Davao Today on Wednesday that her incarceration amid her innocence did not deter her resolve to continue with her human rights work now that she is free.
“I have been serving the people particularly on cases of human rights violations before I was detained. Working in the human rights has been my life,” Naul said.
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, hailed Judge Fudalan’s rulings as it included two of the organization’s human rights workers, Naul and Ibrahim.
“We are happy that Naul has been released from detention in October and we hope that State security forces will not further harass nor threaten her outside prison for doing her work as a human rights worker and as a paralegal,” said Palabay.
Palabay said that cases based on such warrants and perjured testimonies of state security forces are political in nature and meant to intimidate human rights defenders from doing their work.
“Such practices should stop. We call on other judges in Caraga and all over the country to exercise same judicial probity and independence in countless trumped up charges against activists. Some of those charged in Caraga courts are trade unionists based in Metro Manila who are unjustly detained on ludicrous charges,” said Palabay.
The “Sibagat cases” stemmed from the reported dawn raid and torching of a detachment at Barangay New Tubigon, Sibagat, Agusan del Sur by alleged members of the New People’s Army (NPA) on December 19, 2018.
The NPA rebels held captive two soldiers and 12 militiamen as “prisoners of war” (POW) and carted away several firearms and ammunitions during the Sibagat raid. Two months later, the captives were released on February 19, 2019. With a report from Jigger J. Jerusalem