Court acquits peasant political prisoner of trumped-up charges

Press Release | 23 June 2017

On June 22, 2017, the Regional Trial Court Branch 30 in Basey, Samar acquitted peasant Elpidio Romanca after the State Prosecutor failed to refute Romanca and his counsel’s argument that the evidence against him were tampered by the military, thus the fabricated charges of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition are patently false.

Romanca with his family 

Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo S. Clamor said the acquittal of Romanca “shows the tampering of evidence and trumped-up charges filed against peasants and all political prisoners by the Philippine military.” 

Romanca, a peasant from Samar, was illegally arrested on November 16, 2014 on suspicion that he was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA). The military indiscriminately fired at his home during an encounter with the NPA in Brgy. Mabini, Basey, Samar, resulting to a gunshot wound on Romanca’s head and right thigh. He was brought to a military camp  in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig and was held incommunicado for almost three months.?

On February 27, 2015, Romanca was released after the court allowed him to post bail. Karapatan worked with his family, friends and his counsels, led by Public Attorney’s Office Chief Persida Acosta, PAO Director in Region VIII Vevelyn Monsanto, and Atty. Zacarias Duquilla in securing his release.

"The crimes of illegal possession of firearm as in this case, the prosecution has the burden to prove the existence of firearm and that the accused who possessed or owned the firearm does not have the corresponding license for it. Since the guns identified at the trial differs from the gun described in the amended information, the corpus delicti (the substance of the crime, the fact that a crime has actually been committed) has not been fully established. This circumstance coupled with dubious claims of appellant’s connection to the house (where the gun was found) have totally emasculated the prosecution’s case,” thus stated RTC Br. 30 Presiding Judge Tarcelo A. Sabarre Jr., in his decision citing the Supreme Court ruling on evidence.

"The court likewise observed that the prosecution failed to prove the chain of custody from the time the said firearm was allegedly recovered from the accused by Corporal Rodnel Hernandez to the time when he turned-over the same firearm to Major Regenaldo Celada who was the evidence custodian at that time,” the court further said. 

Clamor said that at least 166 political prisoners, out of the 403 (as of May 15, 2017), are charged with similar trumped-up criminal charges of illegal possession of firearms, ammunitions, and explosives. “In absolutely all cases, the evidence against these political prisoners are planted and/or tampered, the investigation and chain of custody of evidence is severely flawed, and the military harass or intimidate witnesses to perjure their testimonies,” he said. 

"Thus, it is the height of injustice for the Duterte administration to continue the imprisonment of political prisoners, including the 264 political prisoners illegally arrested, tortured and detained by the Aquino III regime like Romanca. They should have been released yesterday,” Clamor concluded. ###