Truth-tagging? | Courts junk cases vs red-tagged activists, peace consultants

Ironically, cases against red-tagged individuals are being dismissed by government courts for lack of probable cause or because of insufficient evidence. Motions to quash search warrants were also granted by the courts, declaring whatever so-called evidence the police have acquired during the search as inadmissible.


MANILA – During the oral arguments on the Anti-Terror Act at the Supreme Court, government lawyers and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. insisted that red-tagging is not a policy of the government.

To emphasize on his point, he played videos of National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison while linking legal organizations to the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Assistant Solicitor General Marissa Dela Cruz-Galandines insisted that what the government is doing is “truth-tagging” which “involves a comprehensive and detailed evaluation of facts and also invoked that it is objective, fair, and evidence-based.”

Ironically, cases against red-tagged individuals are being dismissed by government courts for lack of probable cause or because of insufficient evidence. Motions to quash search warrants were also granted by the courts, declaring whatever so-called evidence the police have acquired during the search as inadmissible.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers President Edre Olalia said that this only proves that those arrests and filing of trumped-up charges are only meant to harass than to seek judicial sanction because, in the first place, the government does not have evidence nor basis, both factual and legal, to achieve judicial sanction.

“This haphazard and reckless filing of charges is orchestrated to intimidate, slow down, discourage and stigmatize the schools, teachers, the church, lawyers and all. This is what they really want to achieve,” Olalia said in an interview with Bulatlat.

Recently, another case was dismissed by the court after reviewing the application of the search warrant issued against Lamberto Asinas, an ordinary store owner who was accused of being an intelligence officer of the NPA in Nasugbu, Batangas.

Even then, there is no let up on rights violations. The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) announced that it is preparing charges against the recently released Lumad teachers, students and elders.

But the question remains, how credible is NTF-ELCAC?

The Task Force has busied itself with spreading lies against private citizens while their officials and spokespersons are raking in millions of pesos in salaries and allowances, not to mention the millions of pesos spent in botched intelligence work and in harassing and maligning innocent individuals and groups with the filing of cases and other extra-legal campaigns against them.

Bulatlat has compiled the following rundown of cases dismissed by the court:

1) On May 14, the seven Lumad datu, teachers and students were released from jail after the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Davao Del Norte dismissed charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention because of insufficiency of evidence and lack of probable cause.

The prosecution also said that the case is outside its territorial jurisdiction.

Grade 10 students Moddie Mansimuy-at and Esmelito Oribawan; Grade 12 student Jomar Benag; volunteer teachers Chad Booc and Roshelle Porcadilla; and datus Benito Bay-ao and Segundo Melong were released last May 14.

The charges stemmed from the allegations that the Bakwit schools are indoctrinating Lumad students to take up arms against the government and join the NPA. This allegation was already addressed by the Lumad schools even before the Duterte administration.

Six of the seven detained teachers, Lumad students and elders with their counsel from the National Union of People’s Lawyers-Cebu. (Photo from the Save our Schools Network Facebook page)

2) The prosecution dismissed murder charges filed by the police and the military against Jenelyn Nagrampa-Caballero, Gabriela’s national vice chairperson, and Pastor Dan San Andres of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and Karapatan-Bicol’s spokesperson in a resolution dated Feb 26, 2021.

According to Prosecution Attorney Sean Paulo M. Dumalasa, “the complainant and their witnesses failed to show pieces of evidence against the respondents to warrant probable cause for their indictment.”

Nagrampa-Caballero and San Andres were arrested on July 7, 2020. Witnesses claimed that they were involved in a firefight between the NPAs and the military, resulting in the death of two soldiers.

3) Igorot woman leader Beatrice Belen walked free on Feb. 12 after the court dismissed the charges against her.

Belen, a leader of Innabuyog-Kalinga, the local chapter of women’s group Gabriela, was arrested last October 25, 2020 after the police raided several houses in their community. She was charged with illegal possession of explosives.

Prior to her arrest, she was tagged by the military as a member of the communist group. Belen was said to be in the forefront of the struggle for their right to ancestral domain and in opposing the entry of destructive dam projects into their territories.

4) Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago’s case on illegal possession of firearms and explosives was dismissed by Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court.

In a resolution dated Feb. 5, Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio of Branch 209 declared that the search warrant used to enter Salem’s house is null and void, rendering the alleged firearms and explosives supposedly found in their possession as inadmissible evidence.

The court also noted substantial inconsistencies and contradictions in the testimonies of the informants and in their sworn statements. With this, the court said that their testimonies cannot be given “full faith and credence.”

The court ordered their release on March 5.

Salem and Esparago along with five others were arrested in a simultaneous raid conducted by the police on Dec. 10, 2020, International Human Rights Day. They were dubbed as #HRDay7.

Journalist Lady Ann Salem and union organizer Rodrigo Esparago speak to the media as they walk free today, March 5. (Photo by Kodao Productions)

5) In a resolution dated Oct. 15, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) dismissed complaints of kidnapping, failure to return a minor and international humanitarian law violation filed against former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago and Anakbayan Spokesperson Alex Danday, among others.

The charges were filed by Relissa Lucena, mother of Anakbayan member Alicia Jasper Lucena, and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

According to the DOJ, the complainants “failed to show that the respondents were entrusted with the custody of Alicia Lucena and that they deliberately failed to restore/return her to her home.” It added that Alicia, daughter of the complainant, returned to their home while she was a member of Anakbayan. The DOJ also said that the complainants “failed to prove that Anakbayan is an armed force or that the members thereof used children to participate in hostilities.”

Prior to this, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition for writs of amparo and habeas corpus filed by Lucena against Anakbayan and Elago. According to the decision penned by former Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, the plea for writ of amparo “is not proper” and that the writ of habeas corpus “lacks merit.”

It added that since Alicia has already attained the age of majority, which is 18 years old, she, in the eyes of the State, “has earned the right to make independent choices with respect to the places where she wants to stay, as well as to the persons whose company she wants to keep.”

Two complaints against Danday and others were also junked by the DOJ – one complaint was dismissed on Oct. 30, 2020 for insufficiency of evidence and one on Feb. 10, 2021 for lack of probable cause. These complaints were filed separately by two parents alleging that their children, who are members of Anakbayan, were missing.

Danday and others were charged with violations of Republic Act 10364 or RA 11188 or Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, Article 270 of the Revised Penal Code (kidnapping and failure to return a minor), RA 7610 or Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act and RA 9851 or the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity.

In the Feb. 10 resolution, the prosecution said “there is nothing which would show or establish that the Anakbayan organization is an armed group or a front organization of the NPA.”

As to the witnesses presented who claimed that they were former members of League of Filipino Students and Gabriela Youth and were recruited to the NPA, the prosecution said that “their experiences as NPA recruits are totally irrelevant to the instant case.”

In an Oct. 30, 2020 resolution, the prosecution said that the complainant did not state in her complaint that her child is missing and is not under their care when the complaint was filed.

“Moreover, not a single allegation point to this – that AAA, by being member of Anakbayan, was exploided or that acts consisting of child abuse were committed against her,” the resolution read.

“Indeed, evidence forwarded by two mothers, the League of Parents of the Philippines and National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) failed to prove that Anakbayan is an armed group nor a front organization of the NPA,” Public Interest Law Center (PILC), the counsel of Danday and others said in a statement.

6) Bangued Regional Trial Court Branch 2 dismissed the rebellion charges against community journalist and environmental defender Sherwin de Vera of Northern Dispatch, an alternative media outfit based in Baguio City.

Sherwin de Vera profile picture in Facebook

In a decision dated Sept. 17, 2020, Judge Corpuz Alzate said that the “state had no evidence to present” against De Vera.

The Philippine Army filed the charges against De Vera, implicating him in an alleged encounter between government troops and the NPA in 2013 and 2014. The court said that the sole witness presented did not mention the name of De Vera.

7) The Mamburao Regional Trial Court Branch 44 dismissed criminal charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against Nadeline Joyce Corazon on Sept. 20, 2019.

Corazon is a volunteer for the Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK). She and another activist, Ray Irvine Malaborbor, were accused by the Philippine Army as members of the NPA. They were arrested by the 76th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army on July 27, 2019 in barangay Pinaturilan, Santa Cruz, Occidental Mindoro.

8) The court dismissed murder and frustrated charges against Rachel Mariano, an indigenous human rights defender of Ibaloi-Kankanaey descent. The charges against her were filed by the 81st Infantry Battalion Philippine Army in 2018 in connection to an alleged encounter between the Armed Forces and the New People’s Army (NPA) in October 2017.

Two months after Mariano’s release, Judge Mario Anacleto Báñez who ruled in favor of her acquittal was killed by unidentified men.

Mariano is also the health program desk coordinator of the Community Health, Education, Services and Training in the Cordillera (CHESTCORE) based in Baguio City.

9) On Jan. 15, 2019, a Quezon City court dismissed the charges against National Democratic Front of the Philippines consultant Rafael Baylosis for insufficiency of evidence.

Judge Editha G. Miña-Aguba, in a decision, pointed out the incredulity of the police narrative of the surveillance and arrest, saying that for “evidence to be believed, it must not only proceed from the mouth of a credible witness but it must be credible in itself, such as the common experience and observation of mankind can approve as probable under the circumstances.”

10) The Palayan Regional Trial Court dismissed the double murder case against former Bayan Muna Representatives Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño, former Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano and National Anti-Poverty Commission lead convenor and Secretary Liza Maza, collectively called as Makabayan 4, on Aug. 8, 2018.

Palayan Regional Trial Court Acting Presiding Judge Trese Wenceslao, in a decision, also quashed the warrant of arrest against them.

Wenceslao said that “probable cause has not been established to warrant the arrest.” Facts and circumstances to prove that they are guilty of the crime have also not been met, according to the decision.

“For them to stand trial and be deprived in the meantime of their liberty, however brief, would be a flagrant violation of a basic right which the courts are created to uphold,” the decision read.

This is after the Palayan Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 40 Judge Evelyn A. Atienza-Turla issued warrant of arrests against the Makabayan 4 on July 11, 2018 saying that there is probable cause for the double murder charges filed against the four former partylist lawmakers.

The case was originally filed 12 years ago.

11) In 2019, the Manila Regional Trial Court has trimmed down the list of members of the CPP-NPA from originally 649 that was filed in February 2018 by the DOJ.

The DOJ under then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II filed a petition at the Manila RTC to declare CPP-NPA as terrorist. The petition has listed 649 members of the communist group where, according to an earlier Bulatlat report, eight individuals were dead and two activists have been missing for years.

This list was later trimmed down to eight individuals.

However according to a report by ABS-CBN News, in Feb. 1, 2019, Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar of Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 19 has trimmed it down to two whom he described as having undisputed links with the CPP-NPA, CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison and Antonio Cabanatan who is allegedly the secretary of the Mindanao Commission.

The fight is long

Meanwhile, Olalia maintained that the dismissal of these cases are still few compared to the many activists who were arrested and detained for false charges. Some are even suffering for longer years in prison, he said.

But this is certainly a victory, he said.

However, he said that the damage has been done to those who were detained as they have already suffered from such cruel acts of government.

“This is what they are trying to do, they are trying to break the activists. But unfortunately we cannot give them that gift,” said Olalia.

“Don’t be discouraged. Even if there are many obstacles and frustrations, in the judicial forum we are not always on the losing end. It has been proven over time and we have won many cases already,” he said.

And as laws are being used against the people who practice their democratic rights, he said there is a “need to engage and beat them at their own games.”

“We turn the tables against them. We fight them and this is a slap in their faces,” he said.

True enough, groups recently asked the Supreme Court to act on the intensifying cases of human rights violations. They have proposed some measures to address this in their recent submission to the SC.

Read: Groups urge SC to act on attacks against rights lawyers and clients

“Ultimately, if we are determined and steadfast enough there are greater chances that we will achieve justice in time. Not instantly, but in time,” Olalia said. (

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