Aquino orders Department of Justice (DOJ) to withdraw case vs Morong 43

Aquino orders Department of Justice (DOJ) to withdraw case vs Morong 43

On International Human Rights Day on Friday, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to withdraw the case filed against the so-called “Morong 43” health workers arrested in February on suspicion of being communist rebels.

“We recognize their right to due process was denied them. As a government committed to rule of law… this cannot stand. Therefore I have ordered the DOJ to withdraw the informations filed in court,” Aquino said at an event marking Human Rights Day.

Aquino’s announcement — which was different from his previous pronouncements indicating that he will not touch the Morong 43 issue — came amid criticisms for his government for its decision to skip the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway where Chinese dissident and human rights activist Liu Xiaobao will be honored.

On Tuesday, when asked whether Malacañang will act on calls for the Morong 43’s release, Aquino answered “Kung pwede last time ko na sasagutin yung Morong 43, para na kong sirang plaka eh.”

(This is the last time I’ll answer questions about the Morong 43. I’m starting to sound like a broken record.)

On Friday, however, said he is ordering the withdrawal of the charges against the 43, who will be released upon court approval as long as they have no other standing warrants in other courts.

“The medical workers were arrested in the waning days of the Arroyo administration on the suspicion that they were aiding NPA insurgents. These are valid concerns. Nevertheless, we recognize that their right to due process was denied them,” said Aquino.

“As a government that is committed to the rule of law and the rights of man, this cannot stand. Therefore, I have ordered the DOJ to withdraw the informations filed before the court. This will, in effect, subject to court approval, free those among them who have no other standing warrants in other courts,” he added.

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‘Thankful’ detainees break into tears

Some of the health workers detained at the Taguig City jail facility broke into tears after learning of Aquino’s order, according to secretary general Renato Reyes of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, one of the Morong 43’s staunch supporters.

Reyes, who was visiting the inmates at Camp Bagong Diwa in anticipation of Aquino’s announcement on Friday, was the one who broke the news to the inmates after hearing it on the radio.

“Isa po itong malaking tagumpay para sa human rights sa Pilipinas at tagumpay sa lahat ng sumporta sa kanila,” Reyes told GMANews.TV over the phone, with the sound of the cheering of the detainees in the background.

Carlos Montemayor, spokesman of the “Free the 43 Alliance,” said in a separate interview on dzBB, “Welcome namin ang (We welcome Aquino’s) statement. That’s a very positive development.”

However, Montemayor said the order could have come earlier, adding Aquino’s order merely affirmed their contention that the 43 were denied due process.

He said they are optimistic that all the 43 health workers will be freed soon.

Bayan thanked Justice Secretary Leila de Lima “dahil tinrabaho niya talaga ito at hindi siya tumigil.”

Reyes appealed to the DOJ to file immediately before the court a motion to dismiss the charges against the workers.

Reyes expressed hopes that the “Morong 43” would be released as early as Monday next week if the court approves the motion.

Asked if the health workers plan to hurl a counter suit against the Philippine National Police for their detention, Reyes said they would have to talk things over first.

“Pag-aaralan po muna namin ang mga susunod naming hakbang pero definitely dapat managot ang mga responsable sa pagkakakulong nila,” Reyes said.

Respecting the President’s decision

Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz told GMANews.TV said they would respect the President’s decision.

“Kung ano ang utos ng nakatataas kami naman sa PNP ay tatalima lamang (The PNP will abide by what our superiors order),” Cruz said in a phone interview.

When asked by GMANews.TV to comment on the matter, Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta, refused to issue a statement on the matter as of posting time, saying the Armed Forces of the Philippines would be holding a press conference later in the day at 2 p.m.

Mabanta said the police filed the criminal charges against the health workers and the military only carried out the raiding of the residence of the Morong 43 in February.

Humanitarian grounds

Aquino’s order to withdraw the information against the health workers are contained in a memorandum dated December 8, 2010 that Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr. sent to De Lima.

“There is an urgent need to address their (Morong 43) plight even solely on humanitarian grounds. Furthermore, it is consistent with the spirit of the season that the ‘Morong 43’ be freed from detention and spend Christmas with their families,” Ochoa said in his memo.

“Furthermore, questions raised on the legality of their arrest justify their release,” said the executive secretary.

In a press conference after Aquino’s announcement, De Lima said the motions to withdraw the informations are now being prepared, although she noted that her office is still verifying whether there are indeed standing warrants of arrest related to “other cases” against six members of the Morong 43.

She said they are targeting to file the motions to withdraw the informations by Monday, adding that she hopes that the court will be able to set a hearing on the illegal possession of firearms and explosives cases against the health workers by the end of next week.

When asked why Aquino seems to have changed his mind about releasing the Morong 43, De Lima answered that Aquino did not really make a complete turnaround because he has always acknowledged that the warrant used against the Morong 43 seemed to be defective.

“He was very cognizant of the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. Kaya lang at that point yung kanayang thinking is that when it’s with the courts it has to be with the court approval,” De Lima said.

It still is the correct stand, that it is subject for approval. The most that we can do, the DOJ upon discussion with the president, is to really cause the withdrawal of the charges,” she added.

Human Rights Day celebration

Aside from Aquino, those present at the event on Friday were De Lima, Commission on Human Rights chairperson Loretta Rosales, and United Nations resident coordinator Jacqueline Badcock.

De Lima and Rosales were both signatories to the implementing rules and regulations of the Anti-Torture Law of 2009.

De Lima’s department supervises the state prosecutors in the cases against the health workers.

De Lima had earlier submitted to Aquino her review of the health workers’ cases, but the President had refused to disclose the contents of De Lima’s recommendations.

Instead, Aquino made repeated pronouncements that the fate of the health workers depend on the courts.

He had said the arrest warrant on the health workers seemed to be defective. – with Mark Merueñas, Jam Sisante, VVP/HS, GMANews.TV