Friday, March 5, 2010

Rizal court defers arraignment of 'Morong 43'

MARK D. MERUEÑAS, GMANews.TV

A local court in Rizal on Friday deferred arraignment of the so-called Morong 43, pending resolution of several petitions earlier filed before the Court of Appeals in connection with their February 6 arrest.

The health workers — arrested in Morong on suspcion of being communist rebels — arrived at the Rizal Regional Trial Court before 8 a.m. for their arraignment.

Government authorities filed charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosive devices against the 43 individuals.

However, instead of being arraigned on Friday, the 43 health workers requested acting Judge Amorfina Cerrado-Cesar of the Rizal RTC-Branch 78 to first await the appellate court's ruling on a request by the health workers’ relatives for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.

"They cannot be arraigned because there are still pending questions on the manner of their arrest and detention," said Julius Garcia Matibag, one of the legal counsels of the 43 arrested individuals.

Alleging that the arrest was illegal, the Morong 43's families earlier asked the Court of Appeals to order their immediate release, demanding an explanation why the group was being kept in military custody when they are facing criminal charges.

The arrested individuals had also filed an urgent motion to transfer them in another detention cell, citing the military's "continued violation" of their human rights.

Military Spokesman Romeo Brawner Jr on Thursday said Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff General Victor Ibrado had already recommended the transfer of the Morong 43 to police custody.

The Commission on Human Rights had already summoned AFP officials to appear in the March 18 hearing that would be conducted as part of the rights body's ongoing investigation into alleged mental and physical torture by the military.

The military has repeatedly denied the torture allegations, claiming the detained health workers even preferred the facilities at the military camp over a regular provincial jail.

Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato, spokesman of the Army's 2nd Infantry Division, told GMA News that one of the female members of the Morong 43 still had a hair rebond on Thursday to prepare for Friday's arraignment.

Security was tight during the arraignment, with both policemen and soldiers securing the area.

Much to their dismay, relatives of the Morong 43 — and even members of the media — were barred from entering the court room.

Detoyato stressed the court had approved these restrictions. The health workers were brought back to Camp Capinpin after the arraignment was deferred. - RJAB Jr., GMANews.TV

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