Former CPP-NPA leader Rodolfo Salas or "Commander Bilog" is being escorted after appearing at the Manila RTC.
The STAR/Rey Galupo
Supreme Court asked to free former rebel leader
Gaea Katreena Cabico ( - February 25, 2020 - 11:49am

MANILA, Philippines — A group of human rights lawyers filed a petition before the Supreme Court to free a former ranking leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) asked the Supreme Court to render a decision granting the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in favor of Rodolfo Salas, ordering that he be “immediately set free.”

Salas—former CPP chairperson and NPA commander—was arrested on February 18 in his Pampanga home under the warrant of arrest issued by Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina of the Regional Trial Court Branch 32 in Manila.

Known as “Commander Bilog,” Salas, along with CPP founder Jose Maria Sison and 36 others were charged in court with murder in 2019 in connection to the Inopacan massacre in Leyte in the 1980s.

Citing Umil vs. Ramos, FLAG led by its chairperson Chel Diokno and former SC spokesperson Theodore Te said that “in all petitions for habeas corpus the court must inquire into every phase and aspect of petitioner’s detention.”

“The subject of this petition, Mr. Rodolfo Salas, is being illegally detained in violation of: (1) his right to due process as a protection against hasty, malicious and oppressive prosecutions, and (2) his right against being put twice in jeopardy of punishment for the same offense,” the petition read.

FLAG said the former rebel leader’s due process was violated because he was not given an opportunity to participate in the preliminary investigation.

“Had Rodolfo been given the opportunity to be heard in the preliminary investigation, he would have more than adequately defended himself. The State saw to it that not even a whisper would be heard from him,” the petition said.

It added: “And now Rodolfo finds himself once again in jail in the twilight of his years and without the possibility of posting bail.”

Salas is now 72 years old.

Double jeopardy

Salas, dubbed as the most wanted man in the country during martial law years, was convicted of rebellion and was sentenced to six years of imprisonment.

Because he had been detained since his arrest in 1986 and with preventive detention credited, he was ordered released in 1992.

The decision in the rebellion case was based on the plea bargain embodied in a 1991 compromise agreement between the prosecution and Salas.

Among the conditions was that Salas will be “covered by the mantle of protection of the Hernandez-Enrile political offense doctrine against being charged and prosecuted for any common crime allegedly committed in furtherance of rebellion or subversion.”

FLAG argued this necessarily includes murder.

“By placing Rodolfo in second jeopardy for murder when the State has actively negotiated for and entered into a plea-bargaining agreement that was used as the basis to secure Rodolfo’s conviction for rebellion in 1991—a crime which absorbs and includes murder—the State has not only violated Rodolfo’s right against double jeopardy but also to due process of law,” the petition said.

FLAG said Salas “worked on rebuilding his life with his family after his release.

Salas’ daughter Regina slammed his arrest as "beyond egregious and deplorable." She described the incident as "yet another case of warrantless arrest and human rights violation."

Salas is currently detained in the City Jail of Manila.

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