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Philippines: Torture Victim Rearrested

Philippines: Torture Victim Rearrested: Unchecked Prosecutorial Power Leads to Fabrication of Charges

On July 16, 2013 Aristedes Sarmiento, was one of five men released after they were exonerated by the Courts from fabricated charges laid on them in August 20, 2008.  However, Samiento was again arrested for another murder, again on trumped-up charges. In April 2006, when Sarmiento and his four, co-accused were illegally arrested, they disappeared for few days. The police surfaced them and presented them in a press conference as suspects in a plot against the regime of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They were tortured in a secret detention facility, held incommunicado and released two years later when the Court dismissed the charges laid against them.

This time, the charge against Sarmiento is: he and a person named "Alias Ka Nikki/Ka Liling," one of the persons responsible in the murder of Police Officer 3 Diosdado Corilla on January 30, 2011 in Atimonan, Quezon, is one and the same person. The evidence put forward by the Prosecutor for including Aristedes and four others in the case are sworn statements by three witnesses. They claimed to know all of the accused. However, nothing in their testimony alludes to the fact that they had personal knowledge of the crime or were in any way present when the accused allegedly committed the crime.

In other words, the Prosecutor indicted the accused based on the testimony of the witnesses, their knowledge of the names of the accused and who they were in the past- but not on what they knew of the crime committed at the present time. Inclusion of the names of Aristedes and four others in April 25, 2013, nearly two years after the original complaint of murder was filed, shows that both police and prosecutors did not have certainty in the case. They did not know absolutely if the accused now and the perpetrators, known by their aliases, were the same persons from the beginning of the case. It was these witnesses, whose testimonies are questionable, who gave them names.

Both the credibility and the reliability of the testimonies given by Dennis Capio and Joel Almares could be challenged. What is patently obvious is that their testimonies are literally identical. It is difficult to comprehend and to accept how two different individuals could testify, in written form, giving the exact same information. The Court had the opportunity to correct this error by evaluating the evidence presented to it. However, the Court accepted this as evidence when it granted the prosecutor's request to assign the aliases of the perpetrators with the real names of the accused. In all of this, the accused were not even aware that they had been charged.

It is clear from the following examples, that the Prosecutor did not do his job. Firstly, there is no information that the prosecutor used due diligence to check on whether the subpoena could  reach the accused. Secondly, they relied heavily on police claims. They themselves have a very strong interest in prosecuting, at all costs, any accused, because the person murdered is a policeman. There is no verification as to whether the prosecutors have raised any questions or whether they checked the facts themselves. In most cases, the accused could be reached at their given home address. But the police or prosecutors deliberately used wrong addresses to make sure the accused would most certainly not receive the subpoena.

In the cases of Roy Velez, Amelita Gamara and others, we have labor activists falsely charged with murder. The home addresses used in sending subpoenas to them were different from their real home addresses. This practice is very common. It assures that the accused are indicted, issued with arrest orders and arrested without knowing they had been charged.

If this is the manner in which the subpoenas are mailed to an accused person, obviously they could not respond to any allegations made against them. But regardless of whether the addresses used by the police or the prosecutors were incorrect, both bear no legal responsibility for this premeditated negligence. It supposedly is not their fault, but the fault of the accused. Failure by the accused to respond to crimes alleged against them is sufficient to justify the indictment as legal. In other words, the accused is culpable whether he was aware of the charges against him or not and whether he responded to the allegations or not.

It is clear that the prosecutors relied heavily on the testimonies of three witnesses without testing their reliability and their credibility. Their testimonies could not stand up in court or bear the scrutiny required of strong evidence. Witnesses testified that they themselves did not see or were not present when the crime was committed.  The prosecutor's decision to use this evidence, clearly demonstrates that anyone could be charged with anything regardless of the value of testimonial evidence.  A witness need not see the crime committed to testify about it.

The AHRC is deeply concerned about the arbitrary exercise of power by Prosecutors. In this case, it appears that the prosecutors may have acted according to due process. However, the way in which they concluded the indictment for murder is devoid of even the elementary rules of evidence.  In the process used by the prosecutors, they clearly demonstrated the absence of a high standard of control, and the failure to examine and verify evidence to ensure that those who probably committed the crime could be prosecuted.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

ENDS

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