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2 military personnel convicted of murder of Bayan Muna activist in 2010

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
2 military personnel convicted of murder of Bayan Muna activist in 2010
This undated image shows a person with handcuffed hands
Philstar.com / File

MANILA, Philippines — It took 12 years for activists to score a legal victory in the 2010 killing of a Bayan Muna coordinator and activist in Negros Occidental — but one rights lawyer who worked to see the accused military personnel jailed was no longer able to witness this win.

Bacolod City Regional Trial Court Branch 42 Acting Presiding Justice Ana Celeste Bernad found Roger Bajon and Ronnie Caurino guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the murder of Benjamin Bayles.

The two military personnel are sentenced to suffer reclusion perpetua or 40 years of imprisonment and pay the heirs of Bayles of P100,000 as civil indemnity, P100,000 for moral damages and P100,000 as exemplary damages.

And when the court sentenced the two soldiers who killed Bayles one afternoon in Himamaylan, Negros Occidental, human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos — one of the private prosecutors from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers — was no longer able witness it since he was slain in 2018.

NUPL president Edre Olalia, also a private prosecutor in the case, offered the victory to the two Bens: Bayles and Ramos. “This is a clear warning to those who think there is immunity for impunity,” he said.

“But most of all, this is for those still waiting for justice to be served. Have faith. It will come somehow, sometime,” he added.

The case

On June 14, 2010, in Himamaylan, Negros Occidental, two unidentified persons aboard a motorcycle shot Bayles multiple times as he was walking towards a waiting shed.

Witness John Rey Mayonque was with Bayles and they were walking towards a waiting shed when the former noticed two persons fixing a motorcycle.

“After a couple of minutes, the motorcycle returned with two unidentified persons wearing helmet, one of these persons approached them, pulled out a gun, and fired several times to the victim,” the ruling read.

The witness fled towards the waiting shed and when he looked back, he saw the other person firing more shots against the victim.

He told the court that he saw Bayles jerking as he fell to the canal.

The court ruling

Witness Mayonque identified the two respondents, who were later apprehended by police, as the persons who shot Bayles through the shorts they were wearing and body build.

A tricycle driver, also a prosecution witness, also corroborated the witness’ testimony. He was in front of the waiting shed when the incident happened.

During the trial, a prosecution witness told the court that military men went to her house for a “census” in April 2010 and were inquiring about Bayles.

“The testimonial evidence gathered in this case clearly indicates that the victim who was simply walking towards Crossing Antolo was caught entirely by surprise with the assailants’ swift, deliberate and unexpected attack using firearms thereby negating the possibility for the victim to escape or defend himself,” the court said.

The defense of the two accused, who later admitted to be members of the Philippine military intelligence division, that there were merely passing by Himamaylan City at around 5:00 p.m. to report back to their unit should be given “scant consideration,” it added.

The judge stressed that for this defense to prosper, the accused must demonstrate that it was physically impossible for them to have been at the scene of the crime when it was committed. But based on testimonies of the defense witness and the accused, they were passing by Crossing Antolo using the same motorcycle, making it not physically impossible for them to be at the scene when Bayles was killed.

“An affirmative testimony is far stronger than a negative testimony especially when the former comes from the mouth of a credible witnesses,” the court said.

“The prosecution clearly presented strong evidence, direct and circumstantial from March 23, 2011 to May 5, 2015 to prove the guilt of the two accused and warrant even the denial of their motion for bail,” it continued.

The court also dismissed the defense that a paraffin test — which it said is inconclusive — showed that the three slugs recovered from the scene were not fired from the accused’s personal firearm. This does not disprove their guilt, the court said.

“The positive identification made by the prosecution witnesses bears more weight than the negative paraffin test result conducted after the incident,” he said.

“From the entirety of the testimonial and documentary evidence proffered by the prosecution, this Court is of the considered view that, the prosecution was able to establish the guilt of the accused by that quantum of proof sufficient to produce a moral certainty that would convinced the conscience of those who are to act in judgment,” it added.

No stopping in fight for justice

NUPL president Olalia told reporters in a separate message that although they secured a conviction, they were not jumping for joy to celebrate: The reminder that the two Bens were killed is a sober reminder.

"We take it as a vindication that if you pursue the case doggedly and never give up, somehow, though it is a rarity, more of an exception, when there's a continuous string of victories — it's at great cost, it is tragedy that people have to die, get tortured, imprisoned for some of them, before you even vindicate yourself. We look at this not as a celebratory milestone, but nonetheless, it is also very cynical to downplay the efforts of the human rights defenders, the witnesses, this is also a tribute to their courage and determination, he said.

"But at great cost — and that is the greatest tragedy of the justice system," he added.

House Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna) welcomed the decision amid this time of “wanton red-tagging,” he said.

He vowed to continue pursuing justice “not just for our fallen comrades, but for all those who are oppressed, exploited and victims of state impunity no matter how long it takes.”

“This is crystal message to human rights violators: impunity is not forever — the long arm of justice and accountability will catch up with you eventually. Make no mistake about it, Zarate added.

BEN RAMOS

NATIONAL UNION OF PEOPLES LAWYERS

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