JAM L. SISANTE, GMANews.TV
President Benigno Aquino III will receive this week his legal team's review of the Department of Justice’s memorandum on the case of the 43 health workers arrested early this year for allegedly being part of the communist movement.
The report could pave the way for the release of the so-called Morong 43, whom human rights groups said are innocent of the charges being leveled against them by government security forces.
In a phone interview, senior deputy executive secretary Jose Amor Amorado said the submission of the legal review this week was the only commitment he made during his dialogue with colleagues and relatives of the detained health workers on Monday morning.
“I told them that we are currently reviewing the memo of Secretary [Leila] De Lima and within the week we will be sending it to the President," he told GMANews.TV.
Amorado said he cannot disclose De Lima’s recommendations as the memo is confidential. The memo is being reviewed by the Office of the Executive Secretary and by Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Eduardo de Mesa.
Amorado met with around 30 members of the Free the 43 Health Workers Alliance in Malacanang earlier in the day.
He said he asked the group to present to the government the relatives of five members of the Morong 43 so they can give a “categorical answer" that the five have agreed to become state witnesses.
The health workers are facing charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Five of them have been placed under separate military custody at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, after they allegedly admitted that they were New People's Army supporters, while the remaining 38 were transferred last May to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame in Quezon City.
Free the 43 Health Workers Alliance spokesperson Carlos Montemayor told GMANews.TV over the phone that they are asking Aquino to free the workers by ordering the DOJ to withdraw the cases against them.
Hope springs eternal
“Hopeful pa rin kami siyempre (We are still hopeful)," Montemayor said.
Aquino had earlier hinted that the DOJ review of the case indicated that the warrant of arrest did not give the government security forces the authority to arrest the health workers.
“The review basically stated that there was a person that they (authorities) were going to serve a warrant against. That person was not in the resort that was raided. The firearms, in particular, will fall only in a general classification. [The] explosives were not part of the warrant," said Aquino.
Aquino, however, said the fate of the detained health workers ultimately depend on the courts handling their cases.
“The matter is before the courts. Again, [it’s in their] jurisdiction… So [those] courses of action, we would want to rectify that situation. But that would have to undergo sanction by the courts that have already taken cognizance of the case," he said.
“Hindi naman puwede iutos ng executive na lumaya sila without the court’s sanction (The executive cannot just order their release without the court's sanction)," he added.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares, meanwhile, urged President Aquino to release the 43 health workers and other political prisoners in the country, and show them the same compassion he showed Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar opposition leader who was freed over the weekend after seven and a half years.
Suu Kyi, 65, has been jailed or under house arrest for more than 15 of the last 21 years.
“P-Noy has openly called for the release of Aung Suu Kyi, and has given amnesty to rebel soldiers. Moreover his father was one of the longest detained political prisoners during Martial rule. We expect him therefore to be more sympathetic to the plight of our country’s own political prisoners and order their immediate release," Colmenares said in a statement.
The country has almost 400 political prisoners, according to Colmenares.
He said the government’s immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners would be a gesture of justice and goodwill in the interest of attaining an atmosphere conducive to the peace process as well as a confidence-building measure for the resumption of peace talks.
Last month, Bayan Muna party-list filed House Resolution No. 555 calling for the “immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners," including the Morong 43 who were arrested in a resort compound in Morong, Rizal on February 6. - with Amita O. Legaspi/KBK, GMANews.TV
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