CA affirms conviction of Rizal Day bombers
- Edu Punay () - January 27, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed the conviction in January 2009 of three members of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) for the bombing that killed 11 people and wounded several commuters in the crowded Light Rail Transit (LRT) in Manila on Dec. 30, 2000.

In a 56-page decision released yesterday, the seventh division of the appellate court ruled that the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 29 was correct in finding accused-appellants Mukhlis Hadji Umpara Yunos alias Hadji Onos, Moklis, Muklis and Mocles; Zainal Paks alias Paks and Mamasao Gaon Naga; and Mohamad Amir alias Amir, Abdul Fatak Paute guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crimes of multiple murder, multiple frustrated murder, and multiple attempted murder in connection with the Rizal Day bombing.

The appeals court affirmed the sentence of reclusion perpetua handed down by the RTC on the three accused.

In the ruling penned by Associate Justice Danton Bueser, the CA also dismissed the alibi of the appellants that they were in their respective hometowns when the bombing took place.

Associate Justices Rosmari Carandang and Ricardo Rosario concurred in the ruling.

The CA gave weight to the testimonies of witnesses led by Cusain Ramos, who confessed to helping the three and their cohorts in procuring explosives that were used in the bombing, and Anna Marie Velasquez, one of the survivors.

Yunos was arrested on May 25, 2003 at the airport in Cagayan de Oro while attempting to escape with the assistance of an Egyptian missionary.

Meanwhile, Paks and Amir were arrested in Marawi City in August 2004 while they were on their way to see the governor of Lanao del Sur.

Aside from insisting that he was not in Manila when the bombing happened, Yunos also claimed that he does not fit the description given by witnesses immediately after the bombing and the photo lineup and police lineup identification of the accused-appellants were highly suggestive and improper.

The court, however, ruled that even if there was an improper out-of-court identification of the accused-appellants, the same was already cured after Velasquez testified in court and identified him as one of the bombers.

“When the credibility of the witnesses is at issue, appellate courts will not disturb the findings of the trial court, the latter being in a better position to decide the question, having heard the witnesses and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial,” the CA held.

On the other hand, Ramos’ credibility was questioned by the accused-appellants on the ground that his testimony was

“inconsistent, full of lies, and uncorroborated.”

The CA noted that Ramos had nothing to gain in testifying against the accused-appellants but instead had put the lives of his family in danger, thus, he could only have been compelled to tell the truth.

“Human experience tells us that a person, in the absence of a showing of any ill-motive, would not impute grave crime upon another unless the same is true,” the CA stressed.

The appeals court added that though there are inconsistencies in the testimony of Ramos, these were not enough for the trial court to disregard his entire testimony.

“It has been held, time and again, that alibi, as a defense, is inherently weak and crumbles in the light of positive identification by truthful witnesses. It is evidence negative in nature and self-serving and cannot attain more credibility than the testimonies of prosecution witnesses who testify on clear and positive evidence,” the CA explained.

But while the CA affirmed the findings of the RTC, it modified the damages awarded to the heirs of the victims.

From the original P125,000, the CA directed the three to pay a total of P175,000 as civil indemnity and moral and exemplary damages to the heirs of each of the 11 deceased.

The CA also ordered the accused-appellants to separately pay four surviving victims the amount of P50,000 as damages; and P50,000 to three other victims as moral damages.

Court records show that 11 people were killed in the blast that rocked the LRT station in Blumentritt, Manila on Dec. 30, 2000.

Four other explosions also occurred on that day, leaving a total of 22 people killed and about 100 others wounded.

Prosecutors described Yunos as an explosives expert and confessed member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The government has accused Yunos of carrying out the Rizal Day bombings in behalf of JI.

The plan was to bomb selected targets in Metro Manila, including the LRT and a passenger bus.

Yunos pleaded guilty to the charges in 2004 but later changed his plea.

Security officials said Yunos worked closely with Indonesian JI member Fathur Roman Al-Ghozi, a demolitions expert who escaped from detention at the Philippine National Police headquarters in July 2003. He was killed in what police described as a shootout three months later in Midsayap, North Cotabato.

Prosecutors said Al-Ghozi and Yunos had confessed to buying about 70 kilograms of explosives used to bomb the targets.

Yunos prepared the bombs’ wiring while Al-Ghozi had admitted to preparing the switch on the alarm-clock triggers and packing the explosives, the prosecutors said.

ABDUL FATAK PAUTE ACCUSED AL-GHOZI AND YUNOS ANNA MARIE VELASQUEZ APPELLANTS ASSOCIATE JUSTICE DANTON BUESER ASSOCIATE JUSTICES ROSMARI CARANDANG AND RICARDO ROSARIO COURT RAMOS RIZAL DAY YUNOS
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