SC Orders Dismissal of Rebellion Charges vs. Batasan 5, Beltran, etc.

By Katrina M. Martinez

 

The Supreme Court today ordered the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 150 of Makati City to dismiss the criminal cases for rebellion against six party-list representatives and four private individuals implicated in an alleged foiled plot to overthrow the Arroyo administration on February 24, 2006, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the EDSA Revolution.

In a 23-page decision penned by Justice Antonio T. Carpio, the High Court’s Second Division granted the consolidated petitions for the writs of prohibition and certiorari to stop the prosecution for Rebellion of Representatives Liza L. Maza, Joel G. Virador, Saturnino C. Ocampo, Teodoro A. Casiño, Rafael V. Mariano (known as the “Batasan 5”), and Crispin B. Beltran, and private individuals Vicente P. Ladlad, Nathanael S. Santiago, Randall B. Echanis, and Rey Claro C. Casambre. It also set aside the rulings of the RTC of Makati City dated May 31, 2006 and August 29, 2006 which sustained the finding of probable cause against Beltran, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) Orders dated March 22, 2006 and April 4, 2006 denying the petitioners’ motion for inhibition of the prosecution panel for lack of impartiality and independence.

The Court ruled that the inquest proceeding against Beltran was void for failure of the latter’s panel of inquest prosecutors to comply with the rules on preliminary investigation in cases involving lawful warrantless arrests as provided for by the Rules of Court and by DOJ Circular No. 61.

The Court found that the joint affidavit of the arresting officers states that Beltran was arrested for the crime of Inciting to Sedition and not Rebellion. It added that “the inquest prosecutor could have only conducted – as he did conduct – an inquest for Inciting to Sedition and no other.”

The Court also said that none of Beltran’s arresting officers saw him commit in their presence the crime of Rebellion, nor did the arresting officers have personal knowledge of the facts and circumstances sufficient to form probable cause to believe that Beltran had committed Rebellion. “What these arresting officers allege in their affidavit is that they saw and heard Beltran make allegedly seditious speech on February 24, 2006,” said the Court.

The High Court also ruled that there was no probable cause to indict Beltran for Rebellion as none of the affidavits executed by members and some civilians presented as evidence before the panel of prosecutors which conducted the inquest stated that Beltran committed specific acts of rebellion.

“The allegations in these affidavits are far from the proof needed to indict Beltran for taking part in an armed public uprising against the government,” stated the Court. “What these documents prove, at best, is that Beltran was in Bucal, Padre Garcia, Batangas on 20 February 2006 and that 14 years earlier, he was present during the 1992 CPP [Communist Party of the Philippines] Plenum…Beltran’s alleged presence during the 1992 Plenum does not automatically make him a leader of a rebellion.”

“To repeat, none of the affidavits alleges that Beltran is promoting, maintaining, or heading a Rebellion,” stressed the Court. “The Information…in fact merely charges Beltran for ‘conspiring and confederating’ with others in forming a ‘tactical alliance’ to commit rebellion. As worded, the Information does not charge Beltran with Rebellion but with Conspiracy to Commit Rebellion, a bailable offense.”

The High Court also said that the preliminary investigation conducted against the petitioners was tainted with irregularities for the failure of the respondent prosecutors to comply with the rule which provides that the complaint be accompanied by affidavits of the complainant and his witnesses, subscribed and sworn to before any prosecutor or government official authorized to administer oath, or, in their absence or unavailability, before a notary public.

It added that the respondent prosecutors “not only trivialized the investigation but lent credence to the petitioners’ claim that the entire proceeding was a sham” when the prosecutors treated the unsubscribed letters of two officers of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police as complaints, peremptorily issued subpoenas to the petitioners, and distributed copies of a witness’ affidavit to the media knowing that the petitioners have not had the opportunity to examine the charges against them.

The High Court found merit in petitioners’ doubt on the impartiality of the prosecutors following the statement of respondent Secretary of Justice Raul M. Gonzalez in an interview conducted on the day of the preliminary investigation, i.e. “We [the DOJ] will just declare probable cause, then it’s up to the [C]ourt to decide x x x.” The Court said “this clearly shows pre-judgment, a determination to file the Information even in the absence of probable cause.”

Concurring were Division Chair Senior Associate Justice Leonardo A. Quisumbing and Justice Dante O. Tinga. Justice Conchita Carpio Morales is on official leave, while Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. took no part. (GR Nos. 172070-72, Ladlad v. Velasco, June 1, 2007)

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Attribution:

Image from http://www.zumel.com

Report from the website of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. Posted: June 1, 2007

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