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Aquino: Morong 43 release up to courts

October 14, 2010 9:03pm

(Updated 2:01 a.m. Oct. 15) President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday said he will leave the so-called Morong 43's release up to the courts, in effect rejecting calls for him to grant freedom to the detained health workers as he recently did to some 300 soldiers accused of various rebellious acts.

In a press briefing, Aquino said the courts will decide the fate of 43 health workers that a joint police-Army team arrested in Morong, Rizal last February on suspicion of being New People’s Army (NPA) rebels. (See: AFP: 43 nabbed in doc’s home are ‘rebel trainees’)

The health workers are facing charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Five of them have been placed under separate military custody at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal after they allegedly admitted they were NPA supporters, while the remaining 38 were transferred last May to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame in Quezon City.

Aquino said he had a meeting with the national security cluster Wednesday where the Department of Justice's review of the health' workers case was discussed. He indicated that based on the review, the warrant of arrest did not give the government security forces the authority to arrest the health workers. (See: De Lima vows to review Morong 43 case)

"The review basically stated that there was a person that they (authorities) were going to serve a warrant against. That person was not in the resort that was raided. The firearms, in particular, will fall only in a general classification. [The] explosives were not part of the warrant," said Aquino.

Aquino said that in a talk with PNP Director General Raul Bacalzo, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo David and a defense undersecretary, he emphasized that the government must be "upholders of the law" and that "evidence wrongly gotten cannot be used, therefore [cases] cannot prosper."

Aquino, however, said the fate of the detained health workers ultimately depend on the courts handling their cases.

"The matter is before the courts. Again, [it’s in their] jurisdiction… So [those] courses of action, we would want to rectify that situation. But that would have to undergo sanction by the courts that have already taken cognizance of the case," he said.

"Hindi naman puwede iutos ng executive na lumaya sila without the court’s sanction (The executive cannot just order their release without the court's sanction)," said the president.

Bayan clarifies call to release Morong 43

Meanwhile, militant umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), which has been one of the organizations supporting the detained health workers, clarified that they are not seeking for amnesty for the 43, as they maintained that their arrest and detention were illegal and they should thus be released.

"None of our groups have ever asked for amnesty for the Morong 43... We have always maintained that the arrests were illegal. Our call is for the release of the 43 and the dropping of charges against them," said BAYAN secretary general Renato Reyes Jr.

He added while the DOJ has submitted its recommendation to Malacañang, the groups advocating their release were not informed if the idea was to give amnesty to the detained health workers or to drop the charges.

BAYAN had reiterated its call for “positive steps" for political prisoners, including the Morong 43, after Aquino signed Proclamation No. 50 that grants amnesty to over 300 soldiers who took part in three attempted uprisings against the Arroyo administration in 2003, 2006, and 2007. (See: Aquino signs proclamation giving amnesty to 'mutineers')

The proclamation needs to be approved by both chambers of Congress before the amnesty can take effect.

Proclamation 50

The issuance of the proclamation came a few weeks before the October 28 promulgation of the coup d'etat case against soldiers, including former Navy officer and incumbent senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who participated in the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny.

Trillanes is facing coup d’etat charges before the sala of Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) branch 148 Judge Oscar Pimentel and a separate rebellion charge before the the sala of Makati RTC branch 150 Judge Elmo Alameda.

A state prosecutor has said Proclamation No. 50 preempted the supposed October 28 promulgation of the decision on the coup d’état case. (See: State prosecutor questions timing of amnesty for rebel soldiers)

“If we want to respect the rule of law, if we want to bow to the court, we should wait for the court decision," said Senior State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera, one of the state prosecutors handling the case against Trillanes.

Even Theodore Te, who is the lawyer of four of the accused mutineers in the Oakwood takeover, said the timing of the amnesty gave the impression that Malacañang was preempting the courts. He also said the amnesty proclamation can demoralize the judiciary.

"The promulgation for the Oakwood takeover is on October 28, 2010. Perhaps the more prudent way forward would have been to wait for the promulgation and, if necessary, issue the amnesty proclamation; if necessary, meaning the accused are convicted. Issuing an amnesty proclamation ahead of the promulgation sends a clear message to the prosecution: the seven-year trial doesn't really count for much," Te said on his web log.

"I am confident that my clients will be acquitted. My comments on the propriety of the timing of the amnesty proclamation are my own, not my clients'," he said.

Malacanang, however, is standing by the amnesty proclamation, saying granting amnesty is the prerogative of the president, an "act of grace" from the executive branch, and a show of reconciliation with a wide range of rebel groups.—JV, GMANews.TV
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