KAPATID: Dismissal of ‘traveling skeletons’ case proves Esperon is ‘an empty can’

A human rights group said the dismissed “traveling skeletons” case is a personal defeat for national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. who, as Philippine Army commanding general, had a direct hand in its filing.

Political detainees support group Kapatid said the dismissal by the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) proved that Esperon had been nothing but “an empty can” from the start of the long-drawn 16-year-old case.

“Last Thursday, December 16, this ‘empty can which made the loudest noise through the years went straight to the place it deserves: the trash can,’” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said.

Lim said the case had been Esperon’s so-called crowning glory and was in fact the self-designated principal and last prosecution witness presented to the Court against the 38 accused prominent Leftists and civilian farmers.

“This dismissal proved what we’ve been saying since this case was filed way back 2004-2005. This multiple murder case was already dismissed by the Baybay Regional Trial Court (8th Judicial Region) yet was recycled by the government to implicate known activists and place them behind bars,” Lim said.

The government said it discovered several mass graves in August 2006 containing 67 skeletal remains it alleged were the remains of victims of a New People’s Army purge of its members in 1985.

Human rights group Karapatan however revealed later charges were simply a “remake of the story portrayed by the prosecution in Criminal Case No. 2001-6-51 before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), 8th Judicial Region, Baybay, Leyte which was dismissed by the said court.”

The group added that the skeletons of three of the alleged victims in the 2000 Baybay case as well as other witnesses were “recycled” in the later Hilongos trials.

The case was later transferred to Manila RTC Branch 32.

Accused Jose Maria Sison, National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant and Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairperson, said the mass graves were fake and that Esperon merely collected the skeletal remains from various cemeteries.

Other accused, such as NDFP Negotiating Panel member Benito Tiamzon, also question the articles of clothing that came with the skeletons, saying those who have been to the mountains would know that clothes buried in the rainforest for more than 20 years would have decomposed already, as opposed to the near intact fabrics presented to the court in 2016.

Manila RTC Branch 32 judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina declared that the prosecution “failed to pass the exacting standard of moral certainty to discharge its burden of establishing the guilt of accused-movants to secure their conviction for the crimes charged and overcome their constitutional presumption of innocence.”

Bunyi-Medina granted the demurrer separately filed by farmers Norberto Murillo, Dario Tomada and Oscar Belleza and court granted the same to co-accused Satur Ocampo, Rafael Baylosis, Adelberto Silva, Norberto Murillo, Dario Tomada, Oscar Belleza, Exuperio Lloren, and Vicente Ladlad.

The court also dismissed the cases against Tiamzon, Wilma Austria-Tiamzon, Felomino Salazar, Presillano Beringel, Luzviminda Orillo, Muco Lubong, and Felix Dumali whom the prosecution had already terminated the presentation of its evidence but who had not filed their demurrer.

“We laud Judge Bunyi-Medina for keeping the integrity of the court and to push for peace despite Esperon’s moves that were obviously designed to frighten everyone to do his bidding–convict the individuals the government implicated. Judge Bunyi-Medina’s decision is significant in our fight against the government’s binge of filing clearly fabricated cases to harass, threaten and persecute activists,” said Lim.

Ocampo also thanked Bunyi-Medina in this Kodao interview. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)