The government, through the Office of the Solicitor General, on Thursday justified the legality of the arrest and detention of former New People’s Army leader Rodolfo Salas for his involvement in the alleged mass murder of his comrades in the 1980s.
During oral arguments before the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Jose Calida argued that Salas' detention at the Manila City Jail is pursuant to a lawful order by the court, particularly the arrest warrant issued by a judge in the Manila City Regional Trial Court.
“Your Honors, given that Rodolfo is confined under a lawful order, the proper remedy is to pursue the orderly course of the criminal proceedings and exhaust the usual remedies,” Calida said, in his opening statement.
The high court is hearing the habeas corpus petition filed by Salas' son, Jody, who is seeking the release of his 72-year-old father based on an argument that the murder case is absorbed in his rebellion conviction in 1991.
Through lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group, the petitioner insisted that his father’s conviction, for which he had finished serving his sentence, was based on a plea bargain agreement shielding him from future prosecution for all common crimes committed in furtherance of rebellion.
Salas was arrested last month for 15 counts of murder over the 2006 discovery of the skeletal remains of alleged victims of the communist purge in the 1980s. The accused is set to be arraigned on March 17.
According to the Solicitor General, a petition for habeas corpus is the wrong remedy as the elder Salas was legally arrested. The ordinary remedy would be for Rodolfo to file a motion to quash the murder charges at the RTC, the chief state lawyer said.
“There is also nothing stopping Rodolfo from asking for a reinvestigation especially since has not yet been arraigned," Calida said.
In filing the petition for habeas corpus, Jody Salas invoked the Hernandez-Enrile political offense doctrine, which provides that crimes committed in furtherance of rebellion are already absorbed by the rebellion charge.
However, the Solicitor General disputed this, saying the enumerated acts in the old rebellion charge against the elder Salas did not include the 15 counts of murder that are now pending in court.
“Absent any factual finding from the said decision, the present murder charges against Rodolfo cannot be automatically considered as to have been absorbed into the crime of rebellion,” Calida said.
The mass graves that were made as basis of the murder charge were discovered in Inopacan, Leyte only on Aug. 26, 2006, years after Salas was sentenced.
Calida pleaded to the SC justices to dismiss the habeas corpus petition and instead allow the Manila City court to continue with the hearing of the murder case where the defense could avail of the appropriate remedies.
“Rodolfo is not under detention for capricious reasons, but to be tried for the murder of 15 victims,” Calida said.
“All we ask Your Honors is for this Honorable Court to allow the wheels of justice to run its course,” he said.
Petitioner’s lawyer Arno Sanidad refuted Calida’s arguments, pointing out that the murders were allegedly committed in 1985 and thus fall under the rebellion conviction, which he said covers acts committed from 1970 to 1986.
“As a factual matter, the alleged murders currently charged are absorbed. As a legal matter, the alleged murders currently charged are barred. As a constitutional matter, the alleged murders constitute double jeopardy,” Sanidad said in his opening statement.