Court rejects appeal to overturn acquittal of Aeta farmers in anti-terror case

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Court rejects appeal to overturn acquittal of Aeta farmers in anti-terror case
This undated photo shows protesters against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
The STAR / Boy Santos, file

MANILA, Philippines — An Olongapo court denied the prosecution’s appeal to overturn the acquittal of Aeta farmers Japer Gurung and Junion Ramos on violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

Olongapo Regional Trial Court Branch 97 Presiding Judge Melani Fay Tadili junked the prosecution’s motion for reconsideration for lack of merit.

The court in July granted Gurung and Ramos’ Demurrer to Evidence, a legal challenged to the sufficiency of prosecution evidence. Judge Tadili held that “the prosecution failed to discharge the burden of providing the identities of the accused as the perpetrators of the crime of violation of Section 4 of [Republic Act 11479].”

In dismissing the prosecution’s appeal, the court said that the grant of the accused’s demurrer to evidence “operates as an acquittal and thus, reconsideration of the same will subject them to double jeopardy.”

The Constitution prohibits that a person is put in jeopardy of punishment for the same offense. Double jeopardy means having the accused answer twice for the same offense.

In an order dated July 27 but made public only on Wednesday night, the court said the prosecution had “wanted the Court to review the records again, reconsider the grant of demurrer to evidence and proceed to hear the evidence for the defense.”

But the court said that in the case against Gurung and Ramos, the elements of double jeopardy are present.

It noted that the charges against the two were deemed sufficient in form and substance; the court had jurisdiction over the case; and the accused were arraigned. On the fourth element, the court said it “dismissed these cases on a demurrer to evidence on the ground of insufficiency evidence which amounts to an acquittal.”

“It must be noted that Section 7 of Rule 120 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure provides for the modification only of judgments of conviction and on motion of the accused,” the court also said.

Gurung and Ramos are the first known to have been charged for a supposed violation of the anti-terrorism law.

They claimed they were evacuating due to “intense military operations and continued bombings in their ancestral land” when they were accosted by Philippine Army members.

The two accused were "conspiring, confederating and cooperating with each other" and engaged in acts "intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person or endangers a [person’s] life, by firing and shooting at members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines."

But the court, in dismissing charges against them, noted material inconsistencies” in the identification of the accused in the soldiers’ affidavit and witness testimonies in court. It said: “[A]ccused were not proved to be the perpetrators of the acts of terrorism under Section 4 of RA 11479.”

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