by Ghio Ong – The Philippine Star, 19 Dec 2021
MANILA, Philippines — A Manila court has dismissed murder charges filed against 15 communist leaders for their alleged role in the so-called “Hilongos mass grave” in Inopacan, Leyte 31 years ago.
In a 97-page decision released last Thursday, Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina of the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 32 granted the demurrer to evidence filed by eight of the accused, who claimed the evidence presented against them by the prosecution was insufficient if not fabricated.
The eight petitioners were former Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) congressman Satur Ocampo; National Democratic Front (NDF) consultants Vicente Ladlad, Adelberto Silva and Rafael Baylosis; alleged New People’s Army (NPA) leader Norberto Murillo; peasant leaders Dario Tomada and Oscar Belleza; and Exuperio Lloren.
Medina also ordered the dismissal of murder charges against NDF consultants Benito and Wilma Tiamzon; Lino/Felomino Salazar; Presillano Beringel; Luzviminda Orillo; Muco Lubong and Felix Dumali even if they were not among those who filed the demurrer petitions.
In addition, she ordered Murillo, Tomada, Belleza, Lloren, Silva, Ladlad, Salazar, Beringel, Orillo, Lubong and Dumali “released from detention unless they are incarcerated for some other legal cause/s.”
Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison, who was the primary respondent in the murder charges, was not included in the court order.
They were all facing murder charges over the NPA’s alleged summary execution of at least 15 people suspected to be government informants in 1985, whose remains were buried in a mass grave on Mount Sapang Dako in Inopacan, Leyte.
The mass grave was uncovered in August 2006, but there were claims that some of the remains were the same ones found in a separate mass grave discovered several years earlier in Baybay, Leyte.
The court pointed out that the prosecution, led by the government, presented “no forensic or substantial evidence… to prove that the skeletal remains allegedly dug up from the alleged grave site in Mt. Sapang Dako, Kaulisihan, Inopacan, Leyte belong to any of the alleged victims in these cases.”
“The testimonies of the prosecution witnesses on the identities of the skeletal remains are full of inconsistencies, highly unbelievable and clearly perjured,” it said.
To strengthen the case against the communist personalities, the prosecution presented alleged NPA rebels who had surrendered to the government to testify before the court.
However, Medina asserted “the purported rebel returnees’ testimonies are not only uncorroborated, they are also incredible and untrustworthy.”
She noted that while the court effectively dismissed the cases against the communist officials, it recognizes the “atrocities” committed by communist rebels against civilians and the uniformed services.
The judge appealed to both the government and communist officials to “go back to the negotiating table and eventually forge a long-lasting peace agreement which will be mutually beneficial to them.”