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Senator: Apply juvenile justice law to minors of 'Sagada 11'

May 20, 2006 4:04pm
A week after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed into law the Juvenile Justice Act, the lawmaker who authored the bill called attention to the case of two minors – part of the "Sagada 11", young mountain trekkers accused of being communist rebels – who remain locked up with adult offenders in Benguet in northern Philippines.

The two, aged 15 and 16, were among the 11 backpackers arrested on February 14 after police tagged them as New People's Army (NPA) rebels who raided an Army detachment in Barangay (village) Cabiten, Mankayan on February 10, killing two soldiers and one Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) militia member.

“Obviously, their case of sheer mistaken identity should be condemned and challenged. They should be released to the restorative justice system that the Juvenile Justice Law or Republic Act 9344 provides for," said Senate majority leader Francis Pangilinan, principal author of the juvenile justice law.

Pangilinan also demanded a public apology from the police to the victims and their families, saying incarceration is a “traumatic experience for anyone,
especially for children."

The minors still held in detention include Ray Lester Mendoza, 16, of Barangay (village) Rizal in Makati City, and Frencess Ann Bernal, 15, of Barangay Calumpang, Marikina City.

Presidential Decree No. 603, also known as the Child and Youth Welfare Code, says those 15 years and below are criminally exempt while youth offenders aged 15 to
18 years old can be criminally charged if they acted out the crime with discernment.

The law also outlines the immediate turnover of children in conflict with the law to social workers upon apprehension.

’PUNK ARTISTS’

Also still detained are Aldoz Christian Munoza, 18; Darwin Alazar y Padilla, 21; Arvie Nunez, 21; Neil Russel Balajadia, 25; Jethro Villegas, 21; Ronron Pandino, 20.

Human rights groups said the backpackers were a group of punk artists on their way to Sagada for adventure after concluding their music gig in Tarlac province.

Benguet police director Villamor Bumanglag earier told GMANews.TV that civilians and Cafgu members positively identified the backpackers as responsible for the
raid. He also denied any maltreatment or torture of the backpackers.

NO PROGRESS

But the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said no progress on the matter has been reported since the bill was signed into law.

Earlier this month, it reported that a Benguet prison inmate admitted he was hired to kill some of the backpackers detained in jail.

William Pangan, currently detained in cell 3 of the La Trinidad Provincial Jail in Benguet, said he was stricken by conscience and chose to tell on of his intended victims of the plot.

Pangan said he was told he would get the gun that he will use to kill either Jefferson dela Rosa or Rundren Lao Tuesday. It was not immediately clear if the plan pushed through.

Earlier, Pangan said he had been offered P100,000 last April to kill Lao or dela Rosa. The money was supposedly placed in an envelope that also contained a knife, he said.

The AHRC said the information has also reached the Baguio-based Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA), which in turn informed authorities about the matter.

But it noted that up to now, dela Rosa and Pangan remained confined in the same detention cell – number 3. Because of this, dela Rosa fears greatly for his
life, AHRC said.

It was not the first time that Benguet police were accused of torture and other human rights violations.

In 1992, five Benguet police were found guilty of torturing and killing four women, including a pregnant woman, whom they accused of stealing pants from a store. The news shocked the nation because one of the supposed casualties, then 14-year-old Myrna Diones, miraculously survived to tell their ordeal. GMANews.TV