3 V-Day bombers get death
- Michael Punongbayan () - October 29, 2005 - 12:00am
The Makati City regional trial court sentenced to death yesterday an Indonesian and two Abu Sayyaf bandits for the bus bombing in the city on Valentine’s Day this year that killed four people and wounded more than a hundred others.

Makati City RTC Branch 60 Judge Marical Marissa Guillen handed down the death sentence to Indonesian national Rohmat Abdurrohim and Abu Sayyaf members Abu Khalil Trinidad and Gammal Baharan after finding them guilty of multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder.

The convicts were also ordered to pay P1 million in damages.

The three are set to be taken to death row at the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City to await their execution by lethal injection. However, no date for the execution has been set, and none has been carried out in the Philippines since 2000.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor in the case warned of retaliatory attacks following the death verdict.

State Prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco said there are intelligence reports that the Abu Sayyaf "plans to bomb Metropolitan Manila in retaliation for whatever decision is handed out."

Malacañang hailed the verdict as "another victory in our relentless fight against terrorism."

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the government would not only apprehend "evildoers in the streets and in the fields" but also ensure their conviction in the courts.

"We will bring terrorists to justice and this is our signal to the nation and the world of our determination to uphold national, regional and global security," Bunye said.

"We shall relentlessly fight those who bomb and kill for an irrational and Godless cause," he said.

For his part, Ambassador Benjamin Defensor, chairman of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Counter-Terrorism Task Force, said the decision proves that, even in the absence of an anti-terrorism law, the Philippines is able to neutralize terrorists.

"It only goes to show that we are not relaxing even without an anti-terrorism law. We can still pin down those who commit atrocities and we will continue to fight against all manifestations of terrorism, especially bombings," Defensor said.

Bunye and Defensor also noted the decision marked the first time that the government was able to convict a member of the Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terror network.

Abdurrohim admitted to being a member of the Indonesian terrorist group but pleaded not guilty to the Feb. 14 bombing by claiming he was in Mindanao at the time.

Abdurrohim admitted, however, that he had trained Baharan, Trinidad and another suspect named Gappal Bannah Asali, alias Boy Negro, who later turned state witness against them.

On the evening of Feb. 14 a bomb ripped through a bus in the southbound lane of EDSA and damaged two other vehicles.

The Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for the bombing, as well as two other simultaneous bomb attacks in Davao City and General Santos City, in retaliation for the intensified military offensives against the rebels.

The court said there was overwhelming evidence to convict the three accused and impose on them the death penalty.

"This decision convicting all the accused of the complex crime of multiple murder and frustrated multiple murder was rendered after thoroughly and painstakingly evaluating the evidence presented," Guillen said.

Guillen explained the court considered the free and voluntary pleas of guilt offered by Trinidad and Baharan as well as the testimony of Asali.
State witness
Asali later told reporters he turned state witness because "my conscience bothered me after so many innocent people were killed."

Guillen later explained the death sentence for the three convicts was mandated under Article 48 of the Revised Penal Code.

"(It) provides that in complex crimes, the penalty to be imposed is the maximum penalty of the more serious crime, which in this case is murder, and for which those convicted are meted out the penalty of reclusion temporal to death," the Makati judge said.

The reading of the 41-page decision was shortened to the verdict and sentencing portions.

All three convicts came in early and were accompanied by their lawyers who were provided by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO).

The prosecution, on the other hand, was headed by attorneys from the Department of Justice (DOJ) led by Velasco.

Before the verdict was read, PAO lawyers Allen Pena and Erwin Dimayacyac told reporters they tried their best to defend their clients.

They said the two Abu Sayyaf bandits had indeed pleaded guilty which gave them no way to protect them from the expected death verdict.

During the five-month trial, one of the witnesses, a bus conductor, identified Baharan and Trinidad as the passengers who left the bus in a hurry shortly before the blast.

Pena, however, admitted that all they could do was prove that Abdurrohim was in Mindanao when the bombing took place.

She claimed the prosecution had failed to prove Abdurrohim was in the area or had a hand in the terrorist attack.

"There was no corroboration by any evidence or documents," she told reporters in claiming the DOJ had sought to link the Indonesian with the JI, an allegation that was never stated in the charges.

After the verdict was read, Guillen explained the verdict was reached after a full-blown trial.

Guillen stressed that all three of the accused were permitted to view the evidence presented by the prosecution and to cross-examine witnesses.

"In other words, the undersigned was moved to rule the way she did simply to render justice to those who, under the given facts, are rightly entitled to the same," she said.

Guillen advised the defense lawyers to inform the three convicts of available legal remedies, pointing out that each death penalty sentence is automatically reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Pena, for her part, said they would exhaust all legal remedies to spare the three convicts from lethal injection.

Velasco, on the other hand, said the DOJ will now pursue the case against the other suspects.

Prosecutors also charged Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khaddafy Janjalani and his deputy Abu Sulaiman for the bus bombing. The two bandit leaders remain at large.

He also said the government would also soon charge nine suspected Islamic militants who were arrested in Zamboanga City earlier this week.

Velasco said the nine arrested militants led by Hilarion del Rosario, the founder of the Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM), were also involved in the Valentine’s Day bombings as well.

"Definitely, we have witnesses. We can make a connection between the three newly convicted men and the group led by Santos," Velasco said.

The RSM is composed of new converts to Islam that the Abu Sayyaf has been using to carry out bombings and other terror attacks. — With Paolo Romero, AFP, AP

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