Dumagat political prisoner acquitted from trumped up charges after seven years in prison

"The Philippines is not only known for having one of the slowest internet connections in the world; we are also known for having one of the slowest justice system, especially for those who are poor and oppressed. In the case of Dumagat political prisoner Eddie Cruz, it was seven years in prison, bearing a snail’s pace of  court procedures on the trumped up charges against him. It is an example of the State’s grave and continuing injustice against indigenous peoples’ and those working for genuine change,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, after Judge Lily Villareal Biton of Regional Trial Court Branch 77 in San Mateo, Rizal finally acquitted Cruz from trumped up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives in a promulgation hearing yesterday, October 6, 2017. The court said the prosecution failed to establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt on Cruz’s case. The decision came after 7 years.

Eddie Cruz, a farmer and occasionally hired as a tour guide in Rizal, was illegally arrested and tortured by soldiers of the 16th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (IBPA) on June 11, 2010. He was then charged with fabricated cases of illegal possession of firearms and explosives to justify his detention. For one week, Eddie was incommunicado to his parents Ligaya and Cresencio. 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 the time of his arrest until 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 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 his possession. Several irregularities on the conduct of police investigation and submission of evidence were also raised.   

“Imagine being in jail for more than seven years, which is equivalent to 2,469 days or 59,256 hours, for crimes you did not commit. For Eddie Cruz, it meant months of torture in the hands of the military and a great deal of time away from his parents and siblings, who needed his help for the family’s livelihood. His captors may have even gained promotions and cash rewards for his arrest. It meant months and weeks of waiting for the next dates of court hearings, which were usually postponed because the prosecution and the military failed to produce their alleged witnesses, and whose testimonies are more fantastic than a sci-fi novel. It meant not being able to visit his father’s wake and burial when he died due to cardiac arrest, as Cruz was denied to do so by the Court because of ‘security reasons’,” said Palabay.   

Eddie comes from a poor peasant family, so he was only able to study until elementary. Aside from planting rice, corn, vegetables and fruits, he worked as a volunteer tourist guide with the Tourism Office of Rodriguez, Rizal, taking tourists to Wawa dam, caves and rivers for a monthly salary of PhP3,000 to help support his elderly and sickly parents and his siblings. Since his arrest, his parents were also forced to work for a small amount of money. They rarely visited Eddie at Camp Bagong Diwa, because the fare is too expensive.

“All the 430 political prisoners experienced this form of torture and injustice. Instead of releasing all of them, the Duterte administration has continued the State policy of the previous Macapagal-Arroyo and Aquino III regimes of filing trumped up charges against civilians and those perceived as ‘enemies of the State’. A nationwide martial law will further legitimize these cruel and inhuman practices. We should unceasingly resist against these fascist attacks against the Filipino people,” Palabay concluded.

Reference:  Cristina Palabay, Secretary General, 0917-3162831

Karapatan Public Information Desk, 0918-9790580