By JUSTIN UMALI
SAN PABLO, Laguna – Following another delay in the hearing for arrested labor leader and activist Elizabeth “Mags” Camoral, friends and supporters are urging the Department of Justice to “take immediate action” in ensuring public prosecutors are available to handle criminal cases.
“It is unacceptable that Camoral has been waiting for more than two years for a fair trial,” said Marife Valdeavilla, spokesperson for Free Laguna 3. “This situation mirrors the ‘working’ justice system in the Philippines, where delays, postponements, and excuses have become the norm,” she added.
According to the group Free Laguna 3 Network, Camoral’s hearing was reset for the third time, March 13, on account of no prosecutor being available. His next hearing is scheduled on April 10, 2023.
Camoral’s case is being tried at the Cabuyao Regional Trial Court Branch 108, which has stated that it “borrows prosecutors” from offices in Biñan and San Pablo. According to Valdeavilla, the lack of a dedicated prosecutor in Cabuyao “grinds justice down to a halt” and “keeps it far from the reach of ordinary Filipinos.”
“There should be no reason for the DOJ to skimp on providing adequate resources for those who need justice,” Valdeavilla said. “This includes proper facilities, staff, and mechanisms to ensure that we are not denied the right to a speedy disposition of a case.”
Under Article III, Section 16 of the 1987 Constitution, “All persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative bodies.” FL3 notes that the “unjustly long time” in resolving the criminal charge against Camoral constitutes a “violation of [his] constitutional rights.”
FL3 is calling on DOJ Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla to “take immediate action” and “stop the delaying tactics and proceed with the hearing by providing a fiscal” in Cabuyao. According to the group, the lack of a dedicated prosecutor “denies justice not just for political prisoners like Mags [Camoral] and Steve [Mendoza] but for the over 3,000 citizens of Cabuyao with pending criminal cases.”
The group pointed out that funds could be diverted towards ensuring criminal cases were heard. “If the pork on NTF-ELCAC is channeled to efforts to expand our justice system’s infrastructure, the 3,000 pending criminal cases in Cabuyao RTC Branch 108 may be resolved,” the group said.
FL3 is also calling for all charges against Camoral and the two other activists arrested as part of Laguna 3, Steve Mendoza and Arnedo Lagunias, to be dropped. “The use of fabricated charges to silence and intimidate activists is a gross violation of human rights and must be stopped,” FL3 said in their statement.
Camoral, Mendoza, and Lagunias are all labor leaders who were arrested in March 2021. Lagunias was arrested on March 4, 2021 in his home in barangay Pulong Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa City and was charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Camoral and Mendoza, meanwhile, were both arrested on March 7 as part of the simultaneous police and military operations, better known as Bloody Sunday.
Camoral was arrested on charges of illegal possession of firearms preparing relief goods in the office of the Defend Yulo Farmers Network in Brgy. San Isidro, Cabuyao, while Mendoza was arrested on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives while in his home in barangay Mamatid, Cabuyao.
The Bloody Sunday operations also resulted in the arrests of Nimfa Lanzanas, a paralegal for Karapatan Southern Tagalog, and Joan Efren, a member of the peasant organization Katipunan ng Samahang Magbubukid sa Rizal (KASAMA-Rizal). It also resulted in the deaths of Manny Asuncion, BAYAN-Cavite coordinator; Melvin Dasigao and Macmac Bacasno, members of urban poor organization SIKKAD-K3 in Rizal; Abner Esto, Edward Esto, Randy Dela Cruz, and Puroy Dela Cruz, indigenous Dumagat and environmental rights advocates; and Ariel Evangelista and Chai Lemita-Evangelista, peasant organizers and members of UMALPAS KA in Batangas.
Justice remains slow for all the victims of Bloody Sunday. Last March 7, rights groups and progressives from the Southern Tagalog region protested at the Department of Justice to condemn what they saw as Remulla’s “lack of commitment” to investigating the police officers involved in the operations. (RVO)