The dismissal was due to the failure of the prosecution to bring before the court the complainants of the nearly 30-year-old case.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 81 dismissed one of the two charges filed against Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria, peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in a pre-trial hearing at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Training Center in Camp Crame today, Apr. 15.
Rachelle Pastores, one of the lawyers of the Tiamzon spouses, told the media that the dismissal was due to the failure of the prosecution to bring before the court Sgt. John Jacob, the complainant of the nearly 30-year-old case.
One of the four complainants in the other information, a certain Col. Abraham Casis, attended the hearing. But Pastores said they manifested the seeming “selective prosecution” as the said complainant never appeared before the court in previous hearings for other accused, which were consequently dismissed as well.
“They did not explain,” she said.
The Tiamzon spouses were arrested in Cebu in March 2014. They are facing kidnapping and illegal detention charges before the QC trial court.
The prosecution is set to present three witnesses while the defense will present 13.
As the couple was being escorted toward the police van, Austria was seen raising her fists, despite the handcuffs.
She turned to the human rights defenders who were waiting outside the police building, and said, “This is what they want. That’s why I am raising this,” an apparent reference to her handcuffs.
Lawyer Jill Santos of the Public Interest Law Center told Bulatlat.com that Austria requested the court to allow that her handcuffs be removed for the duration of the hearing.
In the past, jail guards would free one of her hands and handcuff her instead to the jail guard assigned to her. Pastores said this would lessen the strain on Austria, who has back problems.
Pastores said the guards could have allowed this as a humanitarian consideration, and also because the hearing was held within the secured, national police headquarters.
In response, the judge asked Austria to present a medical certificate, Santos added.
Transfer of venue
Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said their motion to transfer the venue is still pending in court.
“This is how Martial Law would look like,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said, describing the holding of the hearing of the Tiamzons inside Camp Crame.
Palabay said that during the Martial Law days, cases were being heard in military courts, which were not open to the public or even to human rights defenders.
In an en banc resolution issued on Nov. 25, the Supreme Court granted the motion of the QC RTC Executive Judge Fernando Sagun Jr., requesting the transfer of hearing venue of the Tiamzons from QC RTC Branch 81 to Camp Crame.
The QC RTC’s request for transfer was due to a protest action in October last year that prompted the QC Hall of Justice to shut down its offices.
The tight security measures in February prevented some of their lawyers to attend the hearing.
Palabay said the transfer was only out of paranoia that the protesters would sneak them out of jail.
“We can only wish,” Palabay said. “They do not deserve to be there. They are the ones who have a vision for the people.”
Free the Tiamzons
Roneo Clamor, spokesman of rights group Selda, said the Tiamzons have long worked for the interest of the poor.
“NDFP peace consultants play a big part in the peace process. They know the conditions at the grassroots level and they are the ones who can propose programs for the negotiations,” said Lorena Santos, secretary general of Desaparecidos.
Clamor told Bulatlat.com the Tiamzon spouses should have never been arrested in the first place because they are covered by the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees signed between the government and NDFP.