The Supreme Court has paved the way for the Sandiganbayan to proceed with the trial of army generals and several police officers involved in the alleged illegal detention of 43 suspected communist rebels, collectively known as the “Morong 43.”
In a 12-page resolution, the SC’s Third Division denied the motion for reconsideration filed by retired Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia, retired Maj. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, Maj. Gen. Joselito Reyes and Brig. Gen. Cristobal Zaragoza; and police officers Marion Balonglong, Allan Nobleza, and Jovily Cabading, seeking the reversal of the resolutions issued by the Sandiganbayan on June 7 and July 25, 2017 denying their motion quash the criminal case filed against them by the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the arrest of the Morong 43.
The Ombudsman said that the concerned military and police officers were liable for eight counts of violation of Sections 2 and 4 of R.A. No. 7438, which provides for the rights of person arrested, detained or under custodial investigation.
Health workers Jane Balleta, Samson Castillo, Mercy Castro, Merry Clamor, Gary Liberal, Reynaldo Macabenta, Alexis Montes, and Teresa Quinawayan, who are among the Morong 43, filed the charges against them on May 3, 2012.
The Ombudsman found probable cause to prosecute the military officials for their failure to inform the basis for the arrest of and provide counsel to the Morong 43.
In seeking for a reversal of the Ombudsman ruling, the accused cited the Ombudsman’s inordinate delay in the resolution of the preliminary investigation of their case as basis for the filing of the motion for reconsideration.
According to them, the unreasonable delay by the Ombudsman constituted a violation of their right to the speedy disposition of their case.
But the SC ruled that there was no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Sandiganbayan in denying the accused motion to quash the information.
“To emphasize, a simple mathematical reckoning of time shall never suffice. Rather, each case shall be scrutinized according to the facts and circumstances peculiar thereto. Considering that the perceived delays in the instant case were justified, the case against the petitioners shall not be dismissed,” the tribunal declared.
Contrary to the claim of the petitioners that there was a lull in the investigation, the SC said records show that numerous proceedings took place during the two-year period.
Likewise, the Court did not give weight to the claim of the petitioners that due to the length that the preliminary investigation lagged, they suffered prejudice consisting of difficulties in traveling which, in turn, prevented them from competently fulfilling their duties.
“On the contrary, the petitioners (save for those who have already retired) were even promoted during the pendency of the investigation, despite the complaint lodged against them,” the Court noted.
The Morong 43 were arrested on the suspicion that they are members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
They were captured by the military in Morong, Rizal, in February 2010.
They claimed that they were mere health workers illegally detained for 10 months and tortured by their captors on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
They were released in December 2010 after the Department of Justice withdrew the criminal charges filed against them.