Are leftists now being targeted by the Duterte administration?

Photo: YouTube screengrab

Warrants of arrest issued against four activists and former members of congress are causing Filipinos to wonder if this is a result of the breakdown of the peace talks between the Duterte administration and the leftists, or if these arrests have further political implications.

The warrants, which are for murders reportedly committed in 2003 and 2004, have been issued against former Congressmen Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño, Liza Maza and Rafael T. Mariano. Ms. Maza is the secretary of the government’s National Anti-Poverty Commission, and Mr. Mariano was the former agrarian reform secretary of President Duterte.

The warrants of arrest came only days after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was president when the cases were filed, was elected House speaker, leading Filipinos to speculate whether the two events are related.

Director General Oscar Albayalde, chief of the Philippine National Police, said on Monday, July 30 that he ordered the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG)  to begin a manhunt for Ocampo, Casiño, Maza and Mariano. This is highly unusual, since the CIDG is commonly assigned to only high-profile criminal cases, and ordinary police are regularly employed in serving warrants.

However, the CIDG said that since the case is considered a double murder, more hands were needed and were being tapped for the arrest. The double murder in question refers to the deaths of Carlito Bayudang, killed in 2004, and Jimmy Peralta killed in 2003. The case against the four former lawmakers was filed by the widows of the murdered, Isabelita Bayudang and Mayumi Peralta, who accused them of conspiracy to murder their husbands.

An arrest order dated on July 11, 2018, was issued in the province of Nueva Ecija by Regional Trial Court Judge Evelyn Turla, who found probable cause against the accused.

Rachel Pastores, the lawyer for Ocampo, Casiño, Maza and Mariano, said last Friday that police records show that Jimmy Peralta was killed in a hit-and-run on December 23, 2003, while Carlito Bayudang was killed on May 6, 2004, over a land dispute. But certain witnesses came forward saying that the murders were committed upon the order of a man named “Sendong” who reportedly got the order from Ocampo, Casiño, Maza and Mariano.

The testimony of these witnesses was never officially accepted by the court.

In 2006 Judge Turla said, “In this case, the undue haste in filing of the information against movants cannot be ignored. From the gathering of evidence until the termination of the preliminary investigation, it appears that the state prosecutors were overly-eager to file the case and to secure a warrant of arrest of [petitioners] without bail and their consequent detention.”

The judge seems to have changed her mind in the interim, leading many to believe that the arrests are not a legal matter but a political one. She has not offered an explanation for changing her mind.

In 2016, another judge ordered the widows to pay P325,000 for nominal damages, moral damages, exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees to Bayan Muna, the group to which the four accused belong.

Ms. Maza vowed to continue to work for reforms with the Anti-Poverty Commission, but decried what she termed “continuing political persecution by rightists and militarists who yield influence in the administration under President Duterte.”

Leftist group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) issued a statement that said, “The collusion between Duterte and convicted plunderer Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was also exposed with Arroyo’s forcible installation as House Speaker, leaving no doubt as to why these trumped-up cases against Ocampo, Maza, Casino and Mariano have been suddenly resurrected,” KMU added.

However, the spokesman for President Duterte denied any involmenet with the warrants of arrest, saying, “The matter is still with the Regional Trial Court. The Palace will continue to respect the independence of our courts. We should therefore let the legal process run its course.”

Director General Albayalde urged the four accused to surrender to the police, saying their rights would be protected and upheld. “I am also appealing to these individuals to just turn themselves in and to submit themselves to judicial processes,” Albayalde said.