In a fresh pushback against government abuse and overreach, the Davao del Norte provincial prosecutor last week dismissed the complaints lodged against the so-called “Bakwit School 7,” who were arrested Feb. 15 for allegedly recruiting at least 19 minors and training them to be “child warriors” for a communist rebel group.
Declared the ruling: “It appears that there is insufficient evidence to support any of the alleged crimes of kidnapping and serious illegal detention, human trafficking, and child abuse.” The decision cleared and ordered the release of two Bakwit school teachers, three adult lumad students, and two lumad elders. The seven were among the 26 people rounded up in what police had called a “rescue operation” of lumad minors from a retreat house inside the University of San Carlos (USC) Talamban campus, Cebu, which had been turned into a “bakwit” school, a learning center for refugees who had fled increasing militarization in their communities in Mindanao.
“Not a single witness” was produced to support the police allegations, according to the prosecutor’s resolution. Neither could police identify who, among those arrested, supposedly indoctrinated the minors in communist ideology.
The latest judicial slap in its face is not, however, deterring the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. On Wednesday, it said it would file a motion for reconsideration on the dismissed charges, and was preparing a new complaint for alleged violations of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act against the Bakwit School 7.
The continuing harassment and intimidation of citizens already cleared by the government prosecutor should prompt lawmakers to make good on their announced plan to look into the case to demand accountability from the police. Party-list congressman Michael Romero said he was pushing for a probe into police methods of using warrantless arrests and baseless charges to seemingly, as he put it, “merely get an accomplishment report or promotion at the expense of anybody, even innocent Filipino lives.”
A number of courts have correspondingly stepped in to try to thwart such brazen police misconduct. In February, the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court Branch 209 ordered the release of journalist Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago, a month after the illegal firearms and explosives case against them was dismissed. The grounds for dismissal? False testimonies by the police officers and inconsistencies in the affidavit of the informant.
In May last year, the 10 volunteers (aka the Marikina 10) who were arrested for supposedly breaking quarantine protocols while conducting a feeding program were released after the prosecutor found the evidence on alleged illegal assembly and violation of other laws insufficient. Marikina City Mayor Marcelino Teodoro himself had refuted the police allegations: “Those involved had asked our permission to conduct relief operations, which is part of the humanitarian aid that we give the community.”
In Zambales, the acting provincial prosecutor also dismissed the complaint of inciting to sedition that was refiled by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) against public school teacher Ronnel Mas, who was arrested in 2020 over his social media post offering a P50-million bounty on President Duterte (a joke, protested Mas). The case was thrown out for “lack of probable cause” after the NBI failed to secure a witness to prove that it was indeed Mas who posted the tweet. The prosecutor also said the social media post was not “authenticated and verified” as required by the Rules on Electronic Evidence. Further evidence of the sloppy casework: The NBI had refiled the case after it was junked by the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 72 because the warrantless arrest used against the teacher was invalid.
The latest case highlighting arbitrary, gravely damaging police work involves a sari-sari store owner, Lamberto Asinas, who languished in jail for a year on allegations that he harbored firearms and was a communist official. In its ruling released last Wednesday, the Nasugbu, Batangas Regional Trial Court quashed the warrant used in Asinas’ arrest and dismissed the case due to inadmissible evidence. A barangay certification also showed that the police informant, who claimed to be Asinas’ neighbor, was not from his neighborhood.
Despite the police’s disturbing record of misbehavior and perverting the law, the looming Anti-Terrorism Act seeks to confer more power and leeway on them by institutionalizing mere suspicion as evidence, as these dismissed cases have tried to do. In the face of the state’s relentlessly heavy hand, the public can only look for succor and protection from the valiant band of judges, prosecutors, and other officers of the law who are doing their part to correct iniquity and shine the light of justice in these dangerous times. Long may they live.
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