Only P-Noy’s pardon
There’s a plea that has long been directed at President Aquino concerning the “Abadilla 5,” and Malacañang’s silence is maddening. Incarcerated for the past 16 years, the five men convicted of the June 1996 killing of the Marcos-era military officer Rolando Abadilla have been pleading for a presidential pardon since last year; one, Lenido Lumanog, who is suffering a chronic kidney ailment, poignantly sought a bit of the President’s time last week to “please take a look at our appeal,” adding that he and his fellows had “already suffered for something we never did.”
The story of Lumanog, Joel de Jesus, Cesar Fortuna, Rameses de Jesus and Augusto Santos—businessman, tricycle driver, traffic cop, motor shop owner, and construction worker, respectively, at the time of their arrest—bears repeating. They have not wavered in their claim of innocence all these years; at least three of them have repeated over and over again that they were physically and mentally tortured into confessing to the ambush and killing of Abadilla on Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City. Their accounts of how they were tortured while in police custody—the harrowing details included the classic “water cure,” electrocution, severe beating and suffocation—were examined and found credible by Amnesty International, which said in a report that the police investigation of the killing “reflects many of [its] concerns about how, despite procedural safeguards and legal sanctions against torture and ill treatment, the practice is able to persist in the Philippines.” (Police officers denied the charge of torture, claiming that they were “honorable men” and that the wounds on the murder suspects were “self-inflicted.”)
The fact is that the communist hit squad Alex Boncayao Brigade had quickly claimed responsibility for shooting Abadilla dead; the group pronounced the deed “revolutionary justice” meted out on the man reputed to have tortured political prisoners in the dark days of martial law. But neither the ABB statement nor the Abadilla 5’s charge of their own torture was of import to Quezon City Judge Jaime Salazar, who found them guilty beyond reasonable doubt on the strength of the lone testimony of a security guard that he saw them at the scene of the crime. (On the other hand, another security guard testified that the suspects were not the killers he had seen. And fingerprints taken off Abadilla’s car did not match those of the five men. Etc.) Incredibly, Salazar also denied a petition of activist priest Robert Reyes to be allowed to present to the court a gold-plated Omega watch that was turned over to him by an ABB member, and that was said to have been taken from Abadilla by the gunmen.
With the Supreme Court’s affirmation in September 2010 of their conviction and life sentence, the Abadilla 5 ceased to entertain hopes of ever being allowed to prove the innocence that they have untiringly professed. (In rejecting the five men’s motion for reconsideration, the high court, voting 9-4 with two abstentions, “relied on the witnesses presented and their credibility,” according to its spokesperson Midas Marquez.) In September 2011, the Bureau of Pardons and Parole sent to the Office of the President a recommendation that the life sentence of the Abadilla 5 be commuted to 16 years each. This was supported by the Public Attorney’s Office, which said that their sentence could be considered to have been served with the application of the good-behavior credits they had earned, as well as by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care. Buoyed then by the possibility of her husband spending Christmas with his family after all these years, Marilou Lumanog was reported as saying that his freedom was “closer to reality than it used to be.”
Five long months later, despite Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s memorandum to the President on the case, the Abadilla 5 are still behind bars. Imagine, if not the convicts’ frustration, then their families’ agony. “My husband’s life is ticking away. Set him free, Mr. President,” Marilou Lumanog said late last March as the families picketed the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice to renew their call for sentence commutation. In that same picket, Father Reyes raised the hope that the men would be free by Easter Sunday.
Christmas, Easter… By such special days were hopes measured. Now the Abadilla 5 are “no longer seeking justice” but only the President’s pardon. Let’s hope that he will, like J. Alfred Prufrock, “have the strength to force the moment to its crisis.”
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