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Court convicts Tiamzon couple for kidnapping, serious illegal detention

A Quezon City court has convicted couple Benito and Wilma Tiamzon of kidnapping and serious illegal detention.

The Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 216 found the couple, who are believed to be top officials of the Communist Party of the Philippines, guilty of kidnapping and serious illegal detention and sentenced them to reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years of imprisonment.

The Tiamzons were also ordered to pay complainant Lieutenant Abraham Claro Casis P75,000 as moral damages; P75,000 as civil indemnity; and P75,000 as exemplary damages.

The cases stemmed from a 1988 case where four soldiers were held captive by the communist group for about two months. Charges were filed in court in 1990, but the Tiamzons were arrested and arraigned only in 2014.

They were convicted on the basis of the testimony of Casis, one of the four soldiers allegedly kidnapped and detained by members of the New People's Army in Quezon province for 75 days.

Casis alleged he saw the Tiamzons at the detention center where he and his fellow soldiers were held. He identified the two during trial. The Tiamzons did not present evidence in their defense, and the court said they had not appeared since 2018.

The court believed Casis' "straightforward and categorical" testimony despite claims by the Tiamzons' lawyers that he did not say it was the two who captured and guarded the soldiers or arranged their release.

"It would appear from the narration of facts of the complainant that the present crime was perpetuated not by a single person but by an organization. From the testimony of the complainant, the persons who actually abducted him admitted to being members of an organization, the New People's Army," Judge Alfonso Ruiz II wrote. 

The court said the soldiers' captors knew what to do and where to go from the moment they were kidnapped and that the place they were taken to was prepared and guarded.

"In the present case, the testimony of the complainant was able to establish conspiracy among members of the group that kidnapped and detained him," the 19-page ruling states.

The Palace described the conviction of the Tiamzons as a victory for justice.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the decision showed the "long arm of the law has finally caught up with the Tiamzon couple."

"We therefore consider this latest court decision as a triumph of the justice system. It clearly shows that the wheels of justice continue to grind," he said. 

The military lauded the conviction, saying it is a victory for NPA victims.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra welcomed the court's decision.

"I still have to read the entire decision. But it's a victory for the prosecution, so as SOJ I am happy about the outcome of the trial," he said in a message to reporters.

'No fair trial'

The Tiamzons' lawyers, meanwhile, said they would appeal the court's decision.

Even then, one of their lawyers said her clients were "unable to defend themselves in court because of threats to their lives."

Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center, said they "could not effectively defend themselves in court because they and their witnesses are constantly subjected to threats to their lives, harassment, and surveillance."

"They could have easily presented evidence in their defense and dispute the clear lies of the lone prosecution witness, a high ranking member of the military," Pastores said, referring to Casis.

Aside from the kidnapping and serious illegal detention cases, the Tiamzons were also among the accused in the murder case which stemmed from the discovery of a mass grave in Leyte containing suspected victims of communist purge during the 1980s.

The couple were arrested in 2014 in Barangay Zaragoza in Aloguinsan, Cebu by joint forces of the police and military.

The Tiamzons were released from detention in August 2016 to join the peace negotiations and participate as consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the political wing of the CPP.

In 2017, the couple even met with President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang.

In 2018, the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 32 ordered that the two be re-arrested, but they have not been taken into custody since. — KBK/RSJ, GMA News