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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

SC clears Satur, 2 other NDF men to join Oslo

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THE Supreme Court has confirmed the grant of provisional liberty to former Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Saturnino Ocampo and two others to allow them to join the peace talks between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front in Oslo, Norway later this month.

During its en banc session on Tuesday, the Court also approved the provisional release of Randall Echanis and Vicente Ladlad, both CPP-NDF consultants in the negotiations with the government, but imposed several conditions.

The high court’s action came after justices deliberated on the motion for intervention filed by the government through the Office of the Solicitor General seeking provisional liberty for 11 other communist leaders so that they could participate in the peace process.

The Court said the provisional liberty for Ocampo, Echanis and Ladlad was valid for up to six months, or as soon as the peace negotiations are terminated.

“Once their participation ceases or the peace negotiations are terminated, their respective bonds shall be deemed automatically canceled,” the tribunal said.

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The high court said the provisional liberty of the three key CPP-NDF leaders would continue to be secured by the cash bond in the amount of P100,000 already posted with the SC’s Office of the Clerk of Court.

Peace doves. Farmers and members of religious groups release doves in Quezon City to call for the resumption of the peace talks between the government and communist rebels. Manny Palmero

The three CPP-NDF leaders were also required to provide the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 32, and all parties with complete contact information, both in the Philippines and in Norway.

During the peace negotiations, the Court also ordered the three communist leaders to report to the Philippine Embassy in Norway whenever required.

“Considering the risks of escape from the criminal jurisdiction of Philippine courts that would be occasioned by the envisioned travel of petitioners Echanis and Ladlad to Oslo, Norway, conditions must be additionally imposed to ensure minimization of such risks,” the justices said.

However, the Court rejected the appeal of the government to also grant provisional liberty to Rafael Baylosis, another NDF consultant for the peace process and other prominent CPP-NDF personalities identified as Tirso Alcantara, Alex Birondo, Winona Birondo, Maria Concepcion Bocala, Reynante Gamara, Allan Jazmines, Ma. Loida Magpatoc, Adelberto Silva, and Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Tiamzon.

In the case of Baylosis, the tribunal even forfeited the P100,000 cash bond that he posted on Feb. 1, 2012 in connection with the 15 counts of murder charges that were filed against him, Ocampo, Echanis and Ladlad.

The high tribunal said that Baylosis’ cash bond can only be reinstated by the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 32 “upon a justifiable cause.”

It noted that Baylosis had failed to appear before the court to face the charges against him.

In its motion for intervention, Solicitor General Jose Calida argued that Baylosis’ attendance and participation as consultant to the NDF Panel is crucial to the success of the peace negotiations.

The OSG also told the high court that President Rodrigo Duterte had already ordered the temporary release of the said individuals pursuant to the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) dated Feb. 24, 1995 between the GRP and NDF panels and for them to be given safe conduct passes to travel to Oslo, Norway. 

The chief state lawyer sought the tribunal’s suspension of its own rules in order to grant them temporary and conditional liberty.

But the Supreme Court said it has no jurisdiction to rule on the plea considering their pending criminal cases before various trial courts in different parts of the country.

“To grant temporary and conditional liberty to these personalities may have the inadvertent but irremediable effect of preempting the trial courts’ own determinations in the exercise of their original jurisdiction to try the cases before them,” it said.

The SC said request for provisional liberty of the said individuals should be filed before the trial courts where they are facing criminal charges.

The tribunal also directed the concerned trial courts to immediately act on such a motion “in view of the grave importance of peace to the Filipino people.”

Records showed that last February 2014, the SC gave the Manila RTC the go-signal to hear and resolve with dispatch the 15 counts of murder charges that were filed against Ocampo, Echanis, Baylosis and Ladlad.

Voting 15-0, the high court did not give weight to the argument of the petitioners that the case should be dismissed on the basis of the so-called “political offense doctrine.”

However, the Court allowed Ocampo to remain in provision liberty under the previous cash bond he posted until the termination of the proceedings before the RTC of Manila.

It also allowed Echanis, Baylosis and Ladlad to remain on temporary liberty under the same bail granted by the Court until the termination of the criminal case or until their role in the peace negotiation with the government is terminated.

The charges arose from the discovery of a mass gravesite allegedly belonging to the CPP-NPA at Sitio Sapang Daco, Barangay Jaulisan, Inopacan, Leyte on Aug. 26, 2006.

Former leaders of the NPA and relatives of the victims of mass execution had testified that CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison ordered the purge.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who is the chief negotiator on the government panel, said he would ask government prosecutors to file and respond the motions for the speedy release of detaine comunist laders .

Bello said that he is confident that detained NDF consultants will be released in time for the formal resumption of the peace negotiations on Aug. 20 in Oslo, Norway after the Supreme Court junked the motion for intervention filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida to release the first batch of NDF consultants. 

“The Supreme Court did not dismiss the petition to grant bail or release the NDF consultants. It merely denied the motion for intervention of the Solicitor General on the grounds of jurisdiction and technicality,” Bello said. 

“The Supreme Court may have underscored the immediacy of the issue at hand and urged the Regional Trial Courts, which have jurisdictions over their cases, to act with dispatch petitions that would come their way with regards to the detained NDF consultants so as the peace process could be expedited,” he added. 

A legal consultant for the National Democratic Front said the release of two communist leaders was a good sign—even though 10 others were not released.

NDF chief legal consultant Edre Olalia said, however, that the limited time frame was a source of concern.

The leftist Bagong Alyansang Makabayan or Bayan on Friday slammed the Duterte administration for failing to release all political prisoners, as the President said he would do while on the campaign trail.

“Satur Ocampo, Randall Echanis and Vic Ladlad have long been out on bail. The Supreme Court merely confirmed this fact. Echanis and Ladlad are peace consultants who have been actively participating in the peace talks,” said Renato M. Reyes, Jr., Bayan secretary general, in a statement.

“What should be underscored is that to date, not one political prisoner has been released in line with the peace talks. Not one of the NDF consultants in jail has been freed,” said Reyes.  

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