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Editorial

Riding the tiger

/ 05:09 AM August 08, 2018

The double-murder case against four former members of the House of Representatives, now somewhat mysteriously resurrected, arises from some rather strange circumstances.

That their case has been met with an obviously orchestrated offer of reward money, and with a signal from the Palace that a Cabinet-level official surrender to the authorities, clears up the mystery — but also adds to the overall strangeness.

Unfortunately, the lives of the four ex-lawmakers, all stalwarts of the political Left, may be in real danger.

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The four are Anti-Poverty Commissioner Liza Maza, the former Gabriela party-list representative who now holds a Cabinet-level position in the Duterte administration; erstwhile Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, former Anakpawis party-list representative; and Teddy Casiño and Satur Ocampo, former Bayan Muna party-list representatives.

The four, together with Joel Virador, another Bayan Muna party-list representative, made up the so-called “Batasan 5” of 2006 — five lawmakers who sought refuge in the Batasang Pambansa complex, under the watchful eye of Speaker Jose de Venecia and the aegis of parliamentary immunity, to avoid arrest on rebellion charges filed by the Arroyo administration.

The Batasan 5, together with Crispin Beltran, another former Anakpawis party-list representative, who was arrested before he could repair to the safe zone of the Batasan, were charged with rebellion, for allegedly entering into a tactical alliance in February 2006 with rightist elements, including Sen. Gregorio Honasan.

The Batasan 5 stepped out of the Batasan in May 2006 after the Makati Regional Trial Court found the amended charges filed against them and many others to be fatally defective.

The double-murder charge that Maza, Mariano, Casiño, and Ocampo face stem from election-related violence which they are alleged to have perpetrated, and which is said to have led to the killings of rival Akbayan party-list members.

The Regional Trial Court of Palayan, Nueva Ecija, through presiding judge Evelyn Atienza Turla, ruled in 2008 that the preliminary investigation in the case was not done properly: “the proper procedure in the conduct of the preliminary investigation was not followed.”

Judge Turla also wrote: “It appears that the state prosecutors were overly eager to file the case and to secure a warrant of arrest…”

As a result, she remanded the case back to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Nueva Ecija, to conduct a proper preliminary investigation.

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That was in 2008.

In 2009, the four accused petitioned the Supreme Court.

In 2017, writing for a unanimous Second Division of the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen partially granted the petition, and remanded the case back to Turla, “for further proceedings with due and deliberate dispatch.”

The eight years that lapsed between petition and decision is problematic, but that is not where the strangeness of the case comes in.

Ordered by the Court to decide on whether there is probable cause against the four petitioners, Turla seemingly forgot what she had found, about the overeagerness of justice department officials under Arroyo and the improper conduct of the preliminary investigation, and issued arrest warrants against the four ex-lawmakers.

“A cursory examination of the case showed that a probable cause of the crime charged as shown in the information exists as against the accused,” she wrote by way of explanation.

Less than a month after she issued the warrants of arrest, Turla inhibited herself from the now 12-year-old case, apparently citing “pressure.”

This is a very curious turn of events. And it gets curiouser.

The day after Turla inhibited herself, a group called the Citizens Crime Watch and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio announced, at a news forum with Wanted posters printed on tarpaulins, a total of P1 million in reward money for any information that would lead to the arrest of the four (P250,000 for each of the leftist leaders — a bounty in all but name).

Earlier in the week, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque publicly called on Maza to surrender “if they are innocent.”

The reward money is substantial enough as to put the life and limb of the four accused in real danger; it is irresponsible for CCW and Topacio to display such a reckless disregard for the safety of political personalities who are waiting for the new judge to rule on their motion for reconsideration.

But as to why this is happening, and with such newfound dispatch? There is no mystery. These four former allies of President Duterte rode the tiger, and now the tiger no longer wants to play.

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TAGS: Batasan 5, Bayan Muna, citizens crime watch, double-murder case, Evelyn Atienza Turla, Ferdinand Topacio, Harry Roque, Inquirer editorial, Joel Virador, Liza Maza, Rafael Mariano, Rodrigo Duterte, Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño
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