Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cops fined over Davao death squads

For neglect of duty that resulted to 720 murders allegedly carried out by the 'Davao death squad', the Office of the Ombudsman ordered 21 Philippine National Police officials to give a fine equivalent to a month's salary.

Police Senior Superintendents Catalino Cuy and Jaime Morente and Police Superintendents Harry Espela, Michael John Dubria, and Rommil Mitra were found guilty of Simple Neglect of Duty over the killings. Also found guilty were other police chief inspectors, police senior inspectors, and police inspectors from the Davao City Police Office.

Although the usual penalty for neglect of duty is suspension for one month, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales approved the modification of the penalty to just a fine.

A fact-finding team from the Office of the Ombudsman found that 720 people were murdered from 2005 to 2008, with deaths reaching as high as 259 in 2008. The murders were usually done by men riding in tandem on motorcycles and most of the deaths were related to the drug trade, the Office of the Ombudsman said.

Less than half of the murders were ever solved, the fact-finding team found.

"From the foregoing figures, it is evident that the respondents were remiss in their duty to significantly reduce the number of killings," the Ombudsman's decision read. The police officers were found guilty under the doctrine of command responsibility under Executive Order No. 226 (1995).

According to the complaint letter that prompted the Ombudsman to investigate the Davao Death Squad killings, high-ranking PNP officers were "directly involved" in the murders.

The Ombudsman said the officers were guilty of failing to "take preventive or corrective action either before, during, or immediately after (the crimes)."

Under that Executive Order, the police officials are presumed to have known about the crimes since they were both widespread and were "repeatedly or regularly committed within (their) area of responsibility."

The Davao Death Squad is a vigilante group believed responsible for the deaths of drug dealers and delinquents in Davao City. According to a Human Rights Watch report in 2009, the murders were done with the knowledge and cooperation of local authorities.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Three Philippine police linked to kidnap and murder

A Philippine policeman has been detained in connection with the kidnapping and murder of a woman after he was caught on camera driving the victim's vehicle, an official said on Tuesday.
Authorities are also searching for two other officers in what is the latest embarrassment for the country's law enforcers, struggling to fight off widespread perceptions of corruption.
The trio were caught on camera driving the sports utility vehicle of Lea Angeles Ng, wife of a shopping mall executive, into a secured parking lot near Manila on the day she vanished, national police spokesman Agrimero Cruz said.
"We beg the bereaved family to bear with the often tedious process of criminal investigation and police procedures that are being conducted to establish an airtight case against those responsible for this crime," he said.
A fourth suspect, a civilian, has also been arrested and confessed to the crime, which led police to the woman's already decomposing remains last week, Cruz told reporters.
The footage shows Superintendent Rommel Miranda, deputy police chief in the central Philippines, and two lower-ranked officers, Otelio Santos and Jifford Signap, leaving Ng's vehicle in the parking lot, Cruz said.
Santos and Signap are both listed as having gone on unauthorised leave while Miranda has been detained, Cruz added.
Earlier this month, Philippine authorities ordered the arrest of 10 Manila policemen who went into hiding after being accused of kidnapping four South Korean tourists. Officials said the victims were freed after a ransom was paid.
In January, the head of the justice department's National Bureau of Investigation was sacked for allegedly covering up the kidnapping for ransom of a Japanese woman by his aides.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

GMA pleads not guilty to poll fraud

MANILA, Philippines - Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday pleaded not guilty to the crime of electoral sabotage, and vowed to clear her name during her arraignment at the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC).
Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, wore a neck brace and an all-white ensemble as she arrived at around 8:30 a.m. for the proceedings in the courtroom of Pasay RTC Branch 112 Judge Jesus Mupas.
She was accompanied by her husband Jose Miguel, son Juan Miguel and a medical team from the Veterans Memorial Medical Center where she is currently detained due to her spine ailment.
The arraignment lasted less than an hour.
Arroyo’s lawyer Benjamin Santos said his client waived the reading of information on the charges against her since she fully understood the indictment.
After the case number was announced, Arroyo said, “Not guilty.”
Pre-trial was set on April 19.
Arrested in November, Arroyo is facing electoral sabotage charges filed by a joint panel of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) for allegedly manipulating the results of the 2007 midterm polls in Maguindanao to favor the senatorial bets of the then administration party.
She faces life in prison if convicted.
Charged along with Arroyo were former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and former provincial election supervisor Lintang Bedol.
In a statement issued prior to her arraignment, Arroyo vowed to clear her name and that of her family and abide by the rule of law.
Arroyo also called on the Aquino administration to respect the rule of law in prosecuting cases against officials of the previous government and other perceived enemies.
“Despite the continuous and massive vilification campaign against me and my family, I have always said that I will dispute all charges in the proper forum,” Arroyo said.
“I am submitting myself to this process not only to clear my name but also as part of my commitment to respect and abide by the rules and orders of our courts,” she said.
“It is my fervent hope that our leaders uphold and our people have faith in the Constitution and the rule of law,” she said.
Arroyo was seen smiling as she entered the Pasay City courtroom but her husband said the former president is frustrated over the case.
“She feel it’s an injustice… there is no case, she is frustrated,” Mr. Arroyo said.
Hundreds of Arroyo’s supporters, who also wore white, converged in front of the city hall to show their support for the former leader.
“We will not abandon you,” their streamers read.
Speedy trial
Santos told the court his client waived her right to appear in the next hearings of her case.
He also said they are requesting a speedy trial – at least three hearings a week.
But clerk of court Joel Pelicano said the court can only handle two trials per week because of their tight schedule.
The arraignment of Arroyo had earlier been moved from Feb. 20 to March 19 but Santos filed a motion to proceed with the arraignment for security and health reasons of his client.
Plea expected
With Arroyo’s not guilty plea, the Comelec yesterday said it is prepared for a court battle with the former leader.
In an interview, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said they had expected Arroyo not to admit the offense during her arraignment yesterday.
“That was expected. That’s why we have been preparing hard because we know it is not going to be handed to us on a silver platter. We expected this ‘not guilty’ plea and we are ready to prove that she is, in fact, guilty,” he said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares also said he expected the not guilty plea.
“After all, she had been covering up all accountability issues raised against her during her nine-year presidency,” he said.
He said he expects Arroyo to deny any and all charges filed or to be filed against her.
He said the former president’s arraignment would not have taken place had impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona succeeded in allowing her and her husband to leave the country last Nov. 15.
The Arroyos went to the airport and tried to board planes for Singapore and Hong Kong, but immigration officers prevented them from leaving.
Gabriela party-list Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, for her part, said the administration should not forget to prosecute Arroyo for plunder and violation of human rights.
One step closer
MalacaƱang, meanwhile, welcomed the arraignment of Arroyo on electoral sabotage charges – to whuch she pleaded not guilty – and hoped that a ruling would come out within the current administration’s term.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Arroyo’s arraignment “brings us one step closer towards attaining closure to the many controversies that have hounded our country during the previous administration.”
“Accountability escapes no one. This is the very foundation of the rule of law: The scales of justice should tip towards no one; her blindfold must continue to shield the system from being susceptible to the temptations of pandering to those with power and influence,” Lacierda said.
He said the Comelec-DOJ task force that investigated the alleged role of Arroyo in the cheating during the 2007 senatorial elections would not press any charges if there was no prima facie case of electoral sabotage.
“Now that she has been arraigned, she is now under the jurisdiction of the court, so we can expect the trial to move on. Arraignment is the very first step towards trial on the merits,” Lacierda said. – With Paolo Romero, Sheila Crisostomo, Jess Diaz, Reinir Padua, Aurea Calica - By Perseus Echeminada (Philstar News Service, 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Philippines' Arroyo pleads not guilty to vote fraud

A smiling ex-Philippine president Gloria Arroyo pleaded not guilty on Thursday to rigging an election, denouncing the charge that could see her jailed for life as part a vilification campaign against her.
Arroyo is accused of conspiring with a feared political warlord to rig the 2007 senatorial elections, one of many corrupt acts her successor, Benigno Aquino, alleges she committed during her near-decade in power.
"Not guilty," Arroyo, 64, told the judge after standing up in a tiny Manila courthouse wearing a neck brace to support her spine that she says is weakened from a rare disease.
Arroyo smiled and waved to a crowd of journalists after she arrived at the court from a military hospital where she had been detained for nearly three months.
She smiled repeatedly again after the brief arraignment hearing ended and headed back into a police vehicle for the return trip to hospital, then issued a statement insisting that Aquino was unfairly harassing her.
"Despite the continuous and massive vilification campaign against me and my family, I have always said that I will dispute all charges in the proper forum," Arroyo said.
"I am submitting myself to this process not only to clear my name but also as part of my commitment to respect and abide by the rules and orders of our courts."
Prosecutors allege Arroyo ordered that ballots in 2007 elections be switched in the southern province of Maguindanao so that one of her allies won the final position available in the nation's Senate.
Arroyo is alleged to have conspired with then-Maguindanao governor and close political ally Andal Ampatuan Snr to tamper with the ballots.
Ampatuan Snr, who had a reputation as a ruthless political warlord, is a co-defendant in the vote-rigging case.
He is also facing multiple murder charges for allegedly organising with his relatives the massacre in 2009 of 57 people in Maguindanao to stop a rival's election challenge, an event that forced Arroyo to end their alliance.
Aquino, the son of democracy heroes, won a landslide election victory in 2010 on a vow to fight corruption that has plagued Philippine society for decades but he said worsened dramatically during Arroyo's reign.
Arroyo has been the top target of his anti-graft campaign.
She was hit in December with a second criminal charge in relation to a $330-million telecom deal with a Chinese firm, in which her husband and a political ally allegedly received kickbacks.
Three weeks after Arroyo's arrest for alleged vote-rigging, Aquino's allies in the lower house of parliament also impeached Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona on charges of corruption and protecting the ex-president.
The Senate is now conducting a lengthy trial to determine if the impeachment was valid and whether Corona, appointed by Arroyo just before she stepped down in 2010, should be sacked.
In a speech on Tuesday, Aquino warned his anti-corruption efforts hinged on successful prosecutions of Arroyo and Corona.
"We want to send a stern yet simple message: justice evades no one. There are no exceptions in our campaign against corruption," he said.
Arroyo was arrested at an exclusive hospital in November shortly after immigration authorities stopped her at Manila's airport from leaving the country.
Arroyo's lawyer said then her spinal disease was life-threatening, and the Supreme Court under Corona issued an order saying she was allowed to leave the country for treatment.
But Aquino insisted Arroyo was trying flee to evade prosecution and that she was not allowed to leave.
Arroyo, who is now a congresswoman after winning a parliamentary seat in the 2010 elections, was transferred to the military hospital shortly after her arrest.
No date has been set for Arroyo's trial, which could take years to complete. Arroyo applied to spend the intervening time under house arrest, but the government denied her request.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Philippine police wanted for S.Korean kidnap

Philippine authorities have ordered the arrest of ten policemen accused of kidnapping four South Korean tourists in a plot involving their countrymen tour guides, the Manila City government said Monday.
The capital's mayor, Alfredo Lim, also ordered that the 10 be dropped from police rolls after they went into hiding on February 14, around the time the kidnapping incident occurred.
"The incident is a tremendous and serious flaw on the good name of the police department," a statement issued by Mayor Lim's office said.
The order came after a South Korean tourist guide was arrested in his home country last week for allegedly conspiring with the Filipino police officers in the abduction.
The guide, identified by Lim's office as Choi Jang Tae, arrived in Manila with 12 South Korean tourists for a four-day vacation and enticed four of them to go shopping with him last week.
As they were walking to a popular mall, the four tourists were accosted by armed men who forced them into a van, the statement from the mayor's office said.
The four were then told by their captors they would be charged with illegal possession of drugs unless they paid $30,000. Another South Korean tourist guide later facilitated the transfer of the money, the statement added.
This South Korean has since been arrested in the Philippines, the mayor's office added.
Law-enforcement officials have assured that all the policemen involved in the crime will be charged and the money they extorted will be returned to its owners.
Lim, a former Manila police chief, also ordered a revamp of Manila police anti-narcotics units to prevent further incidents.
The Philippines has long struggled with corruption and abuse among the police which has sometimes led to foreign tourists being victimised.
In 2011, five Philippine policemen were sacked after they forced a German tourist to buy laptops for them by threatening to charge him with terrorism.

Three killed in failed Philippine jailbreak

Three people including a local Red Cross volunteer were killed when dozens of armed men tried to free an Islamic militant from jail in the southern Philippines, authorities said Monday.
About 50 men wearing black military-style fatigues attacked the jail in the trading city of Kidapawan late Sunday, with one launching a rocket-propelled grenade at the main gate, said deputy police chief Inspector Rolando Tillera.
"They fired an RPG but it misfired. It failed to hit the jail's gate which was securely locked," Tillera told AFP.
The gunmen then opened fire on the jail with assault rifles but they fled when guards shot back, according to Tillera.
He said the gunmen sprayed bystanders with bullets as they retreated and left two bombs to stop security forces from pursuing them.
The fighting lasted only about five minutes but three civilians, including a Red Cross volunteer, were killed, Tillera said. Fifteen other people, most of them civilians, were also wounded by bomb shrapnel and bullets, he said.
Philippine Red Cross spokeswoman Gwendolyn Pang told AFP the volunteer was an ambulance driver who had gone to the scene to help victims after the fighting had ended, then died in one of the ensuing bomb blasts.
The gunmen were trying to rescue Datukan Samad, a fighter from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who is awaiting trial on kidnapping charges, said local military spokesman Colonel Leopoldo Galon.
However MILF spokesman Von al-Haq denied that the group was involved in the incident. He insisted Samad was not a member of the organisation, describing him as just "a notorious criminal".
The 12,000-strong MILF has been waging an armed struggle to create an independent or autonomous Islamic state in the southern Philippines since the 1970s.
More than 150,000 people have died in the conflict, according to military estimates.
The MILF has been involved in peace talks with the government for about a decade, and a ceasefire has been in place for much of that time, but dozens of people still die each year in violence related to the MILF's campaign.
In 2009 armed men broke 31 inmates out of a jail on the southern island of Basilan, including at least one MILF figure and several members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militant group.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

GMA can stay at Veterans

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) dropped its motion yesterday to transfer former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) to a regular jail after doctors testified that the patient still needs close supervision for her therapy.
“We will not insist on the transfer, provided a regular medical report is submitted to the court,” Comelec lead prosecutor Esmeralda Ladra said.

The Comelec lawyer made the manifestation after defense lawyer Benjamin Santos asked for clarification of a press statement made by Comelec that they are no longer pursuing the transfer of the former president.

“We want to know if the Comelec is withdrawing its motion,” Santos said.

Ladra clarified that they are leaving it up to the court to decide on the motion but as far as they are concerned they are no longer interested in pursuing the issue.

Pasay Regional Trial Court Branch 112 Judge Jesus Mupas ordered the prosecution and the defense to submit their respective memorandum on the issue.

Santos reiterated their earlier motion for the house arrest of Arroyo, adding that the request cannot be considered special treatment because of her unique status as a former head of state.

In his supplemental motion, Santos cited the case of former President Joseph Estrada, who was placed under house arrest while the trial of his plunder case was ongoing at the Sandiganbayan.

Santos added that under the law, former presidents are entitled to security in his or her lifetime.

“Former president (Arroyo) thus belongs to a unique class, and the accused is among the select few,” he said.

Arroyo, along with former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and former election officer Lintang Bedol, is facing electoral sabotage charges in relation to the May 2007 midterm election.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 supporters of Arroyo converged yesterday in front of the Pasay City Hall of Justice, where the hearing on the electoral sabotage charge was being held.

Pasay City deputy police chief Superintendent Samuel Turla told The STAR that the group arrived at about 8 a.m. waving pictures of Arroyo and posters seeking house arrest for the former president.

Turla said there was no visible leader of the group and after they held Mass, he requested them to leave the premises since they were already causing traffic.

“I told them if they will not voluntarily leave, we will disperse them with water,” he said.

The police official added the group did not have a permit to hold a rally so they could be charged with illegal assembly.

The group peacefully dispersed after the hearing ended.