P1,000 bribe to Aeta farmers? NUPL clarifies kin sent money, veggies
In this photo taken April 15, 2019, members and supporters of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers troop to the Supreme Court in Manila ahead of their filing of a petition seeking protection from alleged threats of state agents.
National Union of Peoples' Lawyers/Facebook page

P1,000 bribe to Aeta farmers? NUPL clarifies kin sent money, veggies

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - February 11, 2021 - 3:02pm

MANILA, Philippines — The cash that National Union of Peoples Lawyers-Central Luzon (NUPL-CL) gave to  Aeta farmers Junior Gurung and Junior Ramos was from their families and was for them to spend while detained, the group clarified.

NUPL-CL added that they gave the money, along with vegetables that the families brought, to Gurung and Ramos on February 4, days after the Petition-in-Intervention was signed.

“The [P1,000] was budget for their daily expenses and other needs inside the [Bureau of Jail Management and Penology]. The Petition-in-Intervention was signed on 30 January 2021 and notarized on January 31, 2021,” the rights lawyers added.

Due to limited jail budgets, detainees have to spend for necessities like toiletries.

This was an issue brought against the NUPL after Solicitor General Jose Calida had told the Supreme Court that Gurung and Ramos are withdrawing the petition as they were “forced to sign” it.

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict’s Legal Cluster also raised this against the NUPL, with cluster spokesperson Marlon Bosantog accusing the pro bono lawyers’ group of “exploiting” Gurung and Ramos.

“Quo Vadis, NUPL? Saan aabot ang P1,000 niyo?” Bosantog said.

The NTF-ELCAC Facebook page went live on Wednesday afternoon as they presented Gurung and Ramos in a virtual conference.

In the Facebook stream, Gurung also affirmed that they were told to use the P1,000 for “budget” while they are in detention.

Gurung and Ramos switch to PAO lawyers

In the same video, the Aeta farmers said they have decided to have Public Attorney’s Office lawyers represent them in their pending court case under the Anti-Terrorism Act, confirming Calida’s claim in his oral manifestation on Tuesday.

“Gulong gulo ‘yung isip naming dahil akala naming ganun lang po yung pagkaka-ano namin sa kulungan. Parang pinabayaan kami ng NUPL (I am so confused because we thought our detention is just that. It seemed like the NUPL neglected us),” Gurung said.

“Gusto ko pong hahawak ng kaso namin [National Commission on Indigenous Peoples] at PAO para po kasi nakikita po naming handa tumulong sa amin (I want the NCIP and PAO to handle our case because we can see they are ready to help us),” he added.

NUPL-CL, whose lawyers had been with them since the filing of charges last September, said Gurung and Ramos had told them that the NCIP “were convincing them that they will be set free if the PAO will be the ones representing them as defense counsel.”

They added that they confirmed from Gurung and Ramos that they decided to change their legal counsels. When asked for the reason, “all the said was that ‘nalilito na sila (they are getting confused),’  and then, thanked NUPL for the assistance.”

But the rights lawyers pointed out that there are court processes to be followed.

Gurung and Ramos are currently undergoing trial for an alleged violation of the widely opposed Anti-Terrorism Act. The prosecution is currently presenting evidemce and soldiers, who the Aetas said tortured them, will present their testimonies.

“The case will ultimately be decided by the Court based on evidence on record and not based who is representing the two tortured Aetas,” the NUPL added.

“At this juncture, the government is still pursuing the terror case against the tortured Aetas,” they added.

Petition-in-Intervention a legal remedy

The NUPL-CL again asserted that there was no coercion used in Gurung and Ramos’ Petition-in-Intervention. The filing of the pleading could have been a legal remedy for their case, had it prospered.

“So, how could they have been coerced into signing a Petition-in-Intervention which was intended to promote their interests and uphold their rights? It was also filed with the knowledge, consent and support of the immediate families of the accused and of their elders in their IP community,” they added.

NUPL-CL said they patiently explained to Gurung and Ramos what the petition and their signing meant.

During the NTF-ELCAC conference, Ramos said he signed the petition because the NUPL lawyers had been repeatedly going to their detention cell. “Di naming alam na ganun ang nilalaman nung papel na pinirmahan namin na magpa-file sila. Nagulat po ako nung malaman ko na ganung yung laman ng papel,” he added, although Ramos did not expound on what the differences were in what was filed and what he was told had been filed.

(We did not know the content of the paper that we signed, that they will be filing it. I was surprised to know the contents of the paper.)

Gurung added that they only want to go home and be with their families. He said: “’Yun po ang gusto namin, gobyerno, gusto naming na tulungan po kami kasi ayaw po naming na yung NUPL na laging pumupunta lagi dito. Gusto po naming na tutulungan po kami ng gobyerno na makauwi na po kami ng bayaw ko.”

(That is what we want, government. We want help because we don't want the NUPL always coming here. We want help from the government so my brother-in-law and I can go home.)

Even before Calida's manifestation, the SC had unanimously denied the petition as it noted the pending criminal case at the Olongapo trial court.

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