Court denies political prisoner’s plea to visit his father’s wake

Press Statement | June 23, 2017

In a court order issued on June 22, 2017, Judge Lily Villareal Biton of Regional Trial Court Branch 77 in San Mateo, Rizal denied the motion of Dumagat political prisoner Eddie Cruz to visit his father’s wake in the family’s makeshift house in Sitio Ee, Brgy. San Rafael, Montalban, Rizal. 

On June 17, 2017, Eddie’s father, Cresencio Cruz, had just finished harvesting crops in their kaingin, when he suffered a stroke, leading to his death. On June 20, Cruz’s counsels from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) filed a motion to seek the court’s permit to be allowed to visit his father’s wake to properly mourn the death of his father. The NUPL will file a motion for reconsideration on the said June 22 court order. 

“The court’s denial of Cruz’s motion shows the double standard of justice in the country. Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, accused of plunder and other rights violations, was allowed twice to visit her relatives’ wake, while under detention. Senator Jinggoy Estrada was allowed to go to his father’s birthday party for twelve (12) hours, while in jail. If jail authorities provided security to these moneyed individuals, who are charged with far more graver crimes against the Filipino people, why can’t the justice system accord the same humanitarian consideration and respect for political prisoners like Eddie Cruz?” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan Secretary General. 

On June 12, 2010, Eddie Cruz and his two neighbors were resting in his father’s hut in Sitio Carugu, Brgy. San Rafael, Rodriguez, Rizal, when soldiers of the 16th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (IBPA) chased their chickens, cooked and ate them. The soldiers did not leave and asked Eddie’s mother Ligaya if they can sleep over. Nanay Ligaya offered one more hut to the soldiers and took Eddie and their neighbors to another son’s house. 

At 11pm, soldiers went to the house where Eddie and his neighbors stayed, alleged that they were NPA members, hogtied and beat them for four hours. They later released the two, but brought Eddie to a military camp and later on to the police where he was charged with two counts of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, which are fabricated charges based on planted evidence according to Cruz. For one week, Eddie was incommunicado to his parents. Eddie was also denied his right to counsel, as he was only allowed to see a lawyer in August 2010, almost two months after his arrest. From his of arrest to September 2010, the military had custody of Cruz, instead of immediately turning him over to a civilian detention facility.    

Subsequent motions of Cruz’s counsels to dismiss the said charges and demurrer to evidence were denied by the court. Lawyers argued that there are serious questions on the chain of custody of the evidence against Cruz, saying there was no indication that the same firearms was indeed found in the possession of Eddie Cruz. Several irregularities on the conduct of police investigation and submission of evidence were raised.   

The Cruz family hails from the Dumagat tribe in Sitio Tuay, Rodriguez, Rizal. Before his arrest, Eddie worked as a farmer and was also occasionally hired as a tour guide in Rizal, as the breadwinner of the family. Since his arrest by virtue of a trumped-up charge of illegal possession of firearms, his elderly parents had no choice but to work in the “kaingin” to meet the family’s needs. 

His family rarely visits Eddie because they had meager means even for transportation to his detention center in Camp Bagong Diwa. It is only during court hearings that Eddie was able to see his parents. His parents joined some activities in the past months under the Duterte administration to call for the release of Eddie and all political prisoners.  

Judge Biton cited the opposition of Ricky Heart Pegalan, jail warden of the Special Intensive Care Unit 1 (SICA 1) in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig, as basis of her order. Pegalan alleged that escape or rescue of Cruz is highly possible, since he maintains the allegations that Cruz is an NPA member, as the terrain is not familiar to the jail’s escort team.

“The jail warden is deliberately forgetting one major pillar of the justice system in this so-called democracy - one is innocent, until proven guilty. Several evidence submitted to court prove that Eddie Cruz is not an NPA, that he was illegally arrested and tortured, and that there are serious questions on the fabricated charges against him. His convoluted paranoia is denying a person of his basic rights,” Palabay said. 

“Majority of indigenous peoples, including the Dumagat such as Eddie’s family, live in the most remote and poorest villages. They hold wakes not in the comforts of columbariums or posh chapels, nor do they party around spending millions. The court’s decision is clearly skewed against the poor,” Palabay added. 

“When Arroyo and the likes of Juan Ponce Enrile are released from jail and absolved of high crimes, while innocent people like Eddie Cruz remain in jail, impunity and injustice indeed reigns,” she concluded.

Reference: Cristina Palabay, Secretary General, 0917-3162831

Karapatan Public Information Desk, 0918-9790580