‘WE STAY ON GUARD’: ‘Iloilo 42’ happy over acquittal, but…

The 42 Iloilo activists show copies of the court decision acquitting them of the charges for simple disobedience to authority after staging a protest on May 1, 2020. (NUPL-Panay photo)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

Members of the “Iloilo 42” on Friday said that while they lauded the court decision acquitting them of criminal charges for holding a Labor Day rally two years ago, this was just one case out of many in the country where justice for activists and human rights defenders must be achieved.

Lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), one of the “Iloilo 42” who also served as counsel to his co-accused, said that they were happy that the court recognized the lack of evidence in the charges against them.

In a 25-page decision penned by Judge Radney Reginaldo Garcia of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MCTC) Branch 7 in Iloilo City, the 42 respondents were “acquitted of simple disobedience under Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Section 16 of Republic Act No. 10951 for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”

The decision was promulgated last Wednesday.

“[The acquittal] is an indicator that the human rights defenders’ movement is strong in resisting against tyranny and oppressive government policies. Many lawyers and paralegals allied with the [NUPL] have been attacked, and at the same time, human rights defenders from other organizations,” Guillen told Daily Guardian.

But he described the moment as “bittersweet”, as the promulgation of the decision fell on the birthday of Jory Porquia, whose death pushed the May 1, 2020 lightning rally which led to their arrest and detention.

“There was an acquittal, yes, but it was on the day we were reminded that we lost a staunch human rights defender and activist. The public should see that the Porquia family hasn’t gotten justice, as well as families of other human rights defenders in the region,” he added.

Porquia’s daughter, Krisma, said that the acquittal served as somewhat of a “reciprocal gift of hope” between her and her late father, but added that in reality, it should not have happened.

“The reason why the ‘Iloilo 42’ existed was because we called for justice after he died. On the date of his birth, the promulgation was read out and we were acquitted, so it was very significant. It was a celebration [for him]. It gives us hope,” Krisma said.

“At the back of my mind, the police shouldn’t have arrested and detained. They should’ve given the time and effort to chase the perpetrators who killed my father, not cordoning us off. We were supposed to light candles at that time,” she added.

Kabataan Partylist regional coordinator Crimson Labinghisa said that the police should have focused on arresting the late Porquia patriarch’s killers instead of arresting them.

“Until now, after two years, [Jory Porquia’s killers] haven’t been caught and the investigation hasn’t moved forward. We welcome the acquittal, this is one step closer for justice for Tito Jory’s death. We were arrested because we called for justice in his killing,” Labinghisa said.

Guillen said that while they laud their acquittal, they are still many cases of alleged human rights violations, which include the arrest, detention, physical attacks, killings, and red-tagging against activists.

“There have been many human rights violations and arrested and detained [activists] whose cases have not been resolved, and there has been no progress in the cases,” said the lawyer.

The lawyer added that they are still “on guard” since the 15-day period to appeal the trial court’s decision is still open.

“We feel that the Philippine National Police abuses anything who does not follow them, whether it is in the exercise of civil and political rights, they will file a case, multiple cases, including [simple disobedience], so we are not discounting future cases that will arise or that they will be appealing the decision, but we will be ready for that,” he said.

The Iloilo City Municipal Trial Court in Cities Branch 7 acquitted the 42 accused of simple disobedience under Article 151 of Act No. 3815 Revised Penal Code in an October 14 decision promulgated last Wednesday.

The 24-page decision by Presiding Judge Radney Reginaldo Garcia stated that the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense showed that the requisites of the felony of simple disobedience were not met, thus meriting the acquittal.

Comments are closed.