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Appeals Court Decision on Morong 43 Sets Dangerous Precedent

MANILA - The search warrant was highly irregular: it did not contain the correct name of the owner of the house and the list of items to be searched. There were clear violations of the detainees' rights. They were handcuffed and blindfolded for days and denied their right to counsel and visits. Before they were allowed visits, the military brought in a fiscal who conducted inquest proceedings even if the 43 health workers were not represented by their counsels.
Worse, one of the detainees Dr. Alex Montes, 62, recounted, at the Court of Appeals hearing, the torture he endured while being interrogated. Another detainee Jane Balleta was sexually harassed, and chances are other women detainees may have suffered the same fate. Even the government's Commission on Human Rights has declared that the rights of the 43 health workers were clearly violated.
It was obvious that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was lying right from the start. The military initially declared that the 43 health workers were conducting a bomb-making training; later it changed its storyline claiming that the 43 belonged to the health bureau of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army, likening them to the "Department of Health" of the communists. But eventually, it filed cases of illegal possession of explosives and illegal possession of firearms against the 43 health workers before the Morong court, perhaps because it is easier to manufacture evidences for these cases than in a rebellion case.
And yet, despite the glaring violations of the rights of the 43 health workers, the Court of Appeals (CA) junked the petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Why?
A rich man represented by a good lawyer could have been ordered freed on a mere technicality, such as an irregularity in the search or arrest warrants or a violation of the right to counsel. Even Andal Ampatuan Jr., the prime suspect in the November 23 Maguindanao massacre that claimed the lives of 57 people is having a better day in court.
However, this case goes way beyond the unequal dispensation of justice. It is already about a denial of justice. Worse, it is about the impunity in rights violations. The CA decision sets a dangerous precedent at a time when impunity is prevailing. In fact, the decision fans the flames of this impunity. It sends the signal that the military can run roughshod on the rights of people, illegally arrest, torture, and detain them, and justify it later on by filing a case in court.
Romeo Capulong, counsel for the 43, has brilliantly pointed out that the Appeals Court, in explaining its decision, has effectively revived the Ilagan vs. Enrile doctrine, which was issued under martial law.