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Poisoned Fruit

Last December 10, on International Human Rights’ Day, President Benigno Aquino III ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) which is led by Sec. Leila de Lima to withdraw the criminal charges made against the Morong 43. The said withdrawal of criminal charges by the government’s prosecuting body reportedly resulted from the DOJ’s review of the case which yielded that supposed evidences against the Morong 43 were “fruit of the poisoned tree.” Specifically, the evidences obtained against them were “through the improper service of a search warrant.”

What this clearly indicates, at the very least, is that the 43 individuals who constituted the now famous Morong 43 were wrongfully arrested because the authorities (the military in this case) did not follow the correct procedures.

While the President’s order seemed to excuse the military’s “mistake” from any legal liability (and to leave unaddressed the question of whether the Morong 43 were indeed members of the New People’s Army), this “mistake” which is obviously not the first one which the military committed, serves to highlight how terribly facile it is for law enforcement agencies to arrest, detain, and even torture civilians in a post-Marcos and post-Gloria Arroyo period. It seemed, at least as the Morong 43 case showed, that the operating procedure of “arrest first, ask questions later” (or worse, “shoot first, sort them out later”) remain in effect in President Aquino’s daang matuwid.

Still, it is a tribute to the new Justice Secretary that such “mistakes” are revealed and corrected. She should also be commended for submitting her review and recommendations on the case as early as she could possibly do this which was last October. The high regard of the public and more particularly, the confidence accorded her by the families of the Morong 43 as well as the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre are testaments not only to her ability, but more importantly, to her disposition to effect justice.

The Aquino government’s withdrawal of the criminal charges against the Morong 43 shows that Sec. de Lima—unlike her other predecessors—is not keen on accepting “poisoned fruits.”