Supreme Court frees convicts in 1989 Lupao massacre
() - April 16, 2001 - 12:00am
BAGUIO CITY – Three men jailed 11 years ago for murder in the so-called "Lupao Massacre" have been freed after the Supreme Court (SC) ruled that prosecutors were unable to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Servando Saturno, Abraham Rodriguez and Benigno Andres, all of Nueva Ecija, had been convicted by Judge Reynaldo Alhambra of the Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court in San Jose City for the June 23, 1989 murders of Rodelio Valdez, Florencio Bulatao, Protacio Pasalusoos and Jose Lopez.

However, in an 18-page decision, the SC ruled that while the prosecution was able to establish the fact of the killing, it failed to prove that the three committed the crime.

"True, the settled rule is that alibi is a weak defense," read the Tribunal’s ruling. "It has been held that courts will not at once look with disfavor on the defense of alibi (which) may be considered in light of all the evidence for it may be sufficient to acquit the accused."

On appeal, Saturno, Rodriguez and Andres argued that prosecutors failed to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt as Lucila Valdez, the government’s witness, was not able to identify them in court as the killers of her husband and his three friends.

The three accused told the tribunal that it was impossible for them to have been at the scene of the crime on June 23, 1989 when the victims were killed in cold blood.

In reversing Alhambra’s decision, the Tribunal said: "Appellant’s alibi and denial gain considerable strength in view of the unreliable identification of the perpetrators of the crime ...."

Court records show that Saturno testified during the trial that Constabulary investigators tortured him into admitting the crime and that Lucila Valdez was forced to point to him and the other two as the killers.

"He was made to lie upside down nude, and water was poured into his mouth and nose, which directly went to his forehead," read the court records. "Then he was asked to write a letter home, asking his wife to bring his gun and clothing similar to the one worn by the actual gunmen seen by widow Valdez."

According to court records, Delfin Gregorio, a co-accused who was acquitted for insufficiency of evidence, testified that he was maltreated by two Constabulary sergeants.

"He was undressed and made to lie down with his head downward and was repeatedly asked whether he knew accused Saturno," read the court records. "Every time he answered that he did not know accused Saturno, they would pour water into his nose. They also applied a lighted cigarette butt on his private part..."

Based on Lucila Valdez’s testimony, court records said four men, along with Benigno Andres, got off a tricycle in front of the Valdezes’ house in Barangay Agupalo Este in Lupao, Nueva Ecija at around 3:30 p.m. on June 23, 1989.

"Thinking that he was delivering her papaitan, she went down to meet him," read the court records. "However, one of them, wearing a light brown jacket and a fatigue cap met her downstairs and asked for her husband. He (the man in brown jacket) woke up Rodelito, who was sleeping in the bedroom, and asked for his gun.

"When Rodelito answered that he did not have a gun, the man shot him. Lucila, who was carrying her one-year-old child, started to cry for help but the man ordered her to be quiet and stay in the corner of the room...

"The killer’s companions then brought the other (victims) in the same bedroom and hogtied them. Though covering her face and trembling in fear, Lucila sensed that the hogtied men were being brought separately downstairs, after which she would hear gunshots."

Lucila also testified that her husband Rodelito had had a drinking spree with Lopez, Pasalusoos, Bulatao, and Matias and Benigno Andres in their house at around 7 a.m. on June 23, 1989.

The Andreses would leave earlier –with Matias "having only a few drinks before going to his farm," and Benigno "leaving at around lunch time," she added.

When police asked Lucila the names of the suspects, she repeatedly said that she could not identify them. Aurora Alambra

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