A Quezon City regional trial court has convicted couple Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, who are believed to be top officials of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), of kidnapping and serious illegal detention.
Presiding Judge Alfonso C. Ruiz II of Quezon City RTC, Branch 216, sentenced the accused to up to 40 years in jail.
The court also ordered the Tiamzons to pay complainant Lt. Abraham Claro Casis P75,000 as moral damages; P75,000 as civil indemnity; and P75,000 as exemplary damages.
The cases arose from a 1988 incident in which four soldiers were held captive by the communist group for about two months. Charges were filed in court in 1990, but the Tiamzons were arrested and arraigned only in 2014.
The trial court found sufficient basis to convict the Tiamzon couple on the basis of the testimony of Casis, one of the four soldiers allegedly kidnapped and detained by members of the New People’s Army in Quezon province for 75 days.
Casis testified that he saw the Tiamzons at the detention center where he and his fellow soldiers were held. He identified the two during trial.
The Tiamzons did not present evidence in their defense, and the court said they had not appeared since 2018.
The court found Casis’ testimony as “straightforward and categorical” despite efforts by the Tiamzons’ lawyers to assail its probative value, arguing that the witness did not say it was the two who captured and guarded the soldiers or arranged their release.
“It would appear from the narration of facts of the complainant that the present crime was perpetuated not by a single person but by an organization. From the testimony of the complainant, the persons who actually abducted him admitted to being members of an organization, the New People’s Army,” Ruiz said.
The Quezon City court said that the soldiers’ captors knew what to do and where to go from the moment they were kidnapped and that the place they were taken to was prepared and guarded.
“In the present case, the testimony of the complainant was able to establish conspiracy among members of the group that kidnapped and detained him,” Ruiz said, in his decision.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra lauded the successful prosecution of the Tiamzons, saying it is a victory for the DOJ.
“I still have to read the entire decision. But it’s a victory for the prosecution,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.
The Tiamzons’ lawyers vowed to seek a reconsideration of the court’s decision.
Aside from the kidnapping and serious illegal detention cases, the Tiamzons were also among the accused in the murder case which stemmed from the discovery of a mass grave in Leyte containing suspected victims of communist purge during the 1980s.
The couple were arrested in 2014 in Barangay Zaragoza in Aloguinsan, Cebu by joint forces of the police and military.
The Tiamzons were released from detention in August 2016 to join the peace negotiations and participate as consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the political wing of the CPP. In 2017, the couple even met with President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang.
“The accused Benito Tiamzon and accused Wilma (Tiamzon) Austria were positively identified by the complainant (Casis) as one of the persons responsible for his kidnapping and illegal detention,” the judge said in an 18-page decision.
“The court finds no reason to disbelieve the testimony of complainant considering that his narration of facts was straightforward, categorical, and in accord with the natural course of things. Accordingly, his testimony deserves full faith and credit,” he further said.
He said the complainant’s credibility was strengthened by the lack of denial from the accused.
The Tiamzons’ lawyer said the couple were unable to defend themselves in ourt because of threats on their lives.
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