photo courtesy of SELDA
Pilgrims for Peace
December 21, 2021
Pilgrims for Peace applauds the dismissal of the infamous Hilongos case, which was filed against peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and peasant organizers. This decision of Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina on 16 December is not just a vindication for the accused who were arrested and detained on the basis of trumped-up charges but is also an indictment of the state’s counterinsurgency strategy.
In granting the demurrer to the separate pleas of the accused, Judge Bunyi-Medina highlighted the lack of documentary evidence for the death of the alleged fifteen victims of a purported “communist purge”. The judge underscored the lack of scientific evidence that the skeletons the military allegedly exhumed in 2006 are those of the supposed victims. Moreover, the judge said prosecution witnesses are “tainted with bias and ill motive.”
Among the accused are peace panel member Benito Tiamzon, peace consultants Wilma Austria, Adelberto Silva, Vicente Ladlad, former peace negotiator and congressman Satur Ocampo, and the late Randall Echanis, who was brutally tortured and murdered last year. Also included are peasant organizers Norberto Murillo, Dario Tomada, and Oscar Belleza. These individuals have been at the receiving end of relentless political persecution. In fact, ten peace consultants have been unjustly imprisoned due to the state’s weaponization of the law and judicial system. For instance, Silva and Ladlad remain incarcerated due to other trumped-up cases, while Baylosis continues to face security problems. Pilgrims for Peace will continue to call for the dropping of these other false charges.
Led by former Philippine Army commanding general and former National Security Adviser during the Arroyo administration with its blackened human rights record, now current national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon, the state’s security forces have been on a rampage trying to silence government critics and dissenters. In particular, the accused, by trying to implicate them in cases of multiple murder that involve so-called mass graves. As already pointed out by many human rights defenders, the Hilongos case is but a rehash of a 2000 Baybay, Leyte case, from which the “exhumed” evidence and compromised witnesses were resurrected and recycled to concoct another fabricated case.
Judge Bunyi-Medina represents a welcome change in light of numerous baseless charges and search warrants that have been issued against activists in recent years by the same judges. It is noteworthy that Judge Bunyi-Medina, in her 97-page decision, also expressed her “sincere and ardent wish that their respective leaders will endeavor to go back to the negotiating table and eventually forge a long-lasting peace agreement which will be mutually beneficial to them.” Pilgrims for Peace wholeheartedly agrees with the honorable judge. Indeed, the resumption of formal talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the NDFP in order to arrive at a negotiated political settlement remains the most judicious, viable and long-lasting solution to the long-running armed conflict.
Pilgrims for Peace reiterates its call for the dropping of the remaining trumped-up charges against other political prisoners and their release at the soonest time possible. It also calls for upholding of all previously signed bilateral agreements between the GRP and the NDFP, such as The Hague Joint Declaration, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). Through the resumption of the formal negotiations, the parties could restart talks on the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), thereby allowing productive discussions on how to address the underlying socioeconomic problems that have doomed the Filipino masses in a life of poverty and misery and fueled armed conflict.