Political prisoner Eduardo Serrano, a suspected leader of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) has been jailed for 11 years on trumped-up charges that are now being dismissed.
On Thursday, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch #98 Presiding Judge Marilou Runes-Tamang ordered the “immediate release” of Mr Serrano from prison.
Cristina Palabay, Secretary-General of the human rights advocate group Karpatan said “Serrano is to walk to freedom once the Custodial Center of the Philippine National Police is Camp Crame, Quezon City, gives him the green light.”
Serrano said he felt elated by the court’s decision – others say that it’s a “big blow” to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Judge Tamang described the entire event as “pathetic” and “an outright mockery of the basic human rights on due process of law which is enshrined in our constitution.”
Serrano was arrested in 2004 under the premise that he was a New People’s Army Commander named Rogelio Villanueva.
The decision handed down yesterday comes after only a week when two Army soldiers appeared before the court but failed to identify their person of interest “Villanueva”.
Judge Tamang even ordered one of the soldiers off the witness stand for making false claims about statements he made in his affidavit.
The hearing last week was intended to settle once and for all the identity of Serrano – he was captured as Mindoro rebel leader “Villanueva”, who has multiple murder, frustrated murder, robbery and kidnapping charges relating to a rebel ambush that happened in March 2003.
Despite his insistence throughout his 11 year incarceration, it was only this year that the Court of Appeals ruled that Serrano’s real identity should be established before the criminal case against him would be heard.
“As it stands now, we find Serrano not ‘judicially charged’ under any resolution, information or amended information … He was not also validly arrested as there was no arrant of Arrest or Alias Warrant against Eduardo Serrano. Clearly, Serrano was not restrained of his liberty under process issued by a court,” Karapatan quoted Runes-Tamang, who read her decision herself, as saying.
“The unjustified insertion of the name Eduardo Serrano in the commitment order issued by the (Mindoro) court as an alias of Rogelio Villanueva aka ‘Ka Makling’ only after the latter was arrested, sans a warrant and without the benefit of any preliminary investigation is too pathetic. It is an outright mockery of the basic human rights on due process of law which is enshrined in our Constitution,” the judge said.
Karapatan said that it may take more time before Serrano is actually free due to the murder and frustrated murder charges in several other courts in Quezon City – those too name Serrano as Villanueva.
Karaptan noted that the decision in this case “serves as a precedent (for the) other cases of Serrano, even (for) other political prisoners who were charged (with) crimes based on different names.”
Serrano’s case is also reminiscent of that of Rolly Panesa, a security guard from Negros Occidental arrested in Quezon City, severely tortured and then presented by the military as the alleged Southern Luzon rebel leader “Benjamin Mendoz.”
“We hope that this positive decision serves as precedent to other cases of Serrano, even to other political prisoners who were charged of crimes not based on their true names,” Palabay said.
“To be deprived 11 years of your life for a crime allegedly committed by another person is unforgivable. Eduardo Serrano should immediately be released. We also urge other courts to recognize that Serrano is not Villanueva and order for his release. His incarceration is too long, yanking him away from his family, friends, colleagues and the rest of the society,” Palabay said.
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