URGENT APPEAL FOR INDIGENOUS POLITICAL PRISONER EDDIE CRUZ

 

Dear friends and colleagues, 


Greetings of peace!

 

On October 6, 2017, Judge Lily Villareal Biton of Regional Trial Court Branch 77 in San Mateo, Rizal will finally rule on the trumped-up charges against Dumagat political prisoner Eddie Cruz, after more than seven (7) agonizing years in jail.

 

Eddie Cruz, a farmer and occasionally hired as a tour guide in Rizal, was illegally arrested and tortured by soldiers of the 16th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (IBPA) on June 11, 2010, and then charged with fabricated cases of illegal possession of firearms and explosives to justify his detention.

 

For one week, Eddie was incommunicado to his parents Ligaya and Cresencio. Eddie was also denied his right to counsel, as he was only allowed to see a lawyer in August 2010, almost two months after his arrest. From his of arrest to September 2010, the military had custody of Cruz, instead of immediately turning him over to a civilian detention facility.   

 

Subsequent motions of Cruz’s counsels to dismiss the said charges were denied by the court. Lawyers argued that there are serious questions on the chain of custody of the evidence against Cruz, saying there was no indication that the same firearms was indeed found in the possession of Eddie Cruz. Several irregularities on the conduct of police investigation and submission of evidence were raised.  

 

Eddie comes from a poor peasant family, so he was only able to study until elementary. Aside from planting rice, corn, vegetables and fruits, he worked as a volunteer tourist guide with the Tourism Office of Rodriguez, Rizal, taking tourists to Wawa dam, caves and rivers for a monthly salary of PhP3,000 to help support his elderly and sickly parents  and his siblings. Since his arrest, his parents were also forced to work for a small amount of money. They rarely visited Eddie at Camp Bagong Diwa, because the fare is too expensive.

 

On June 17, 2017, Eddie’s father, Cresencio Cruz, had just finished harvesting crops in their kaingin, when he suffered a stroke, leading to his death. On June 20, Cruz’s counsels from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) filed a motion to seek the court’s permit to be allowed to visit his father’s wake to properly mourn the death of his father, citing how other moneyed and powerful individuals like former Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada were allowed to do such. In a court order issued on June 22, 2017, Judge Biton denied the motion of Eddie to visit his father’s wake in the family’s makeshift house in Sitio Ee, Brgy. San Rafael, Montalban, Rizal. The court has failed the wish of Eddie’s father to see his son free.  

 

Cruz’s case is a concrete illustration of the broken criminal justice system in the Philippines. He was arrested during the final days of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration and endured detention throughout the Benigno Aquino III regime.

Continuing counter-insurgency programs have made civilians, particularly indigenous peoples and peasants, targets of illegal arrests and extrajudicial killings. Many more like Cruz were illegally arrested and detained based on fabricated charges. In most of such cases, evidence were usually procured and planted. Fake and paid witnesses were produced in court to give perjured statements. Several military agents have also consistently attended Eddie’s court hearings and have harassed officers of the court to influence the outcome of the case.

 

Political prisoners have pinned their hopes in the Duterte administration for their release through general amnesty and the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. The unfulfilled promises of President Duterte, however, did not stop the efforts of political prisoners, their families and counsels, and human rights advocates to uphold the merits of their cases and to campaign for their release.

 

Cruz’s credible and indisputable testimony, as well as that of other witnesses, and the gross irregularities in the conduct of investigation and evidence warrant his acquittal.  The court still has its chance to correct itself, despite its denial of Cruz’s previous motions, by acquitting Cruz of all the charges against him.

 

Let us appeal to Judge Lily Villareal Biton of Regional Trial Court Branch 77 in San Mateo, Rizal to stand for justice by effecting the release of Eddie Cruz.



BACKGROUND OF THE CASE:

Arrest and Torture of Eddie Cruz

 

On June 10, 2010, at around 3 pm, twenty-four (24) soldiers of the 16th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (IBPA) arrived at the residence of Eddie Cruz and his family at Sitio Tuay, Brgy. Puray, Rodriguez, Rizal. During that time, Eddie was with his mother, Ligaya, his brother Gerry, and sister-in-law Vanessa and their two children. Eddie’s uncle, Nardo Cruz, and another relative, Carling De Jesus, were also with them during that time. The soldiers insisted on staying in their house. Out of fear, Ligaya, Vanessa, Gerry and the children left the house and stayed at his brother’s house. Eddie, Nardo, Carling and five soldiers were left in the house. The other nineteen soldiers stayed at a nearby hut by the Cruz family. 

 

At around 11:30 pm, they were awakened when they heard gunshots. The five soldiers stayed with Eddie, Nardo and Carling, while they saw soldiers staying at the other house come out. The three wanted to go out of the house but they were not allowed to because, the soldiers said, they might escape. The gunshots stopped, and the three were hogtied by the soldiers using the rope of their carabao. They were forced to walk in duck position while they were being dragged by the soldiers outside the house. They were brought to the mountains near their house.

 

Eddie was being forced to admit that he was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) or he will be killed. He was hit with rifles and kicked at by the soldiers and was brought back home on June 11 at around 4am. Soldiers were badgering the three to hold their firearms and to admit that they own it, while one of the soldiers took their photos. Eddie asked the soldiers to release Nardo and Carding because they are already old and sickly. The soldiers agreed and released the two.

 

At around 9am of June 11, the soldiers left the house, bringing Eddie with them, his hands still tied. He was made to wear a bonnet so he will not be recognized by their neighbors. They went to the house of a certain Darwin in Sito Tuay before dark. Darwin was not home when they arrived but the soldiers still went inside the house. Eddie was tied tightly to a post. Soldiers also took five chickens of the owner of the house and cooked it. Eddie and the soldiers spent the night at Darwin’s house and left at 7:30am the following day, June 12.

 

Soldiers forced Eddie to walk for six kilometers to Sitio Sabangan, then to Sitio Wawa, where they boarded a 6x6 truck at 1am of June 13. He was brought to a military safehouse in Kasiglahan Subdivision, Brgy. San Isidro where he was again interrogated. He was brought to the detachment of the Charlie Company in San Isidro, Montalban, Rizal at around 5am and until 8am.

 

They stayed in the detachment until morning of June 14 and went to the 16th IBPA headquarters in Brgy. Pinugay, Baras where Lt. Arnel Marcos ordered his men to again tie up Eddie. He received several blows from the soldiers. His neck, hands and feet were tied for two days. Six soldiers went to the room where he was kept and interrogated him. They kept badgering Eddie to admit that he was a member of the NPA and that he owned the firearms. One of the soldiers who interrogated him was a certain Lt. Lopez. A soldier named Drakulan repeatedly pierced Eddie with a needle on his arms.

 

Eddie told the soldiers, “kahit patayin niyo ako sa oras na ito ay hindi ako aangkin ng hindi akin.” (Even if you kill me at this moment, I will not admit ownership of something that is not mine.”)

 

On June 15, 2010, Eddie was brought to the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in Taytay, Rizal, where he first met a certain Renz Robin Bautista, whom soldiers also accuse as a NPA member. After the fiscal informed Cruz and Bautista of their cases, the two of them were brought to the Montalban District Jail.

 

Cruz and Bautista stayed in one cell, their feet chained tightly with three padlocks to a post while sleeping, causing Eddie’s ankle to swell. He asked his captors to loosen the chains but they refused saying that he might escape. Eddie could not remember how many weeks were they chained. During these times, the military kept insisting that they were members of the NPA. When the military offered him livelihood if he will admit that he is an NPA. Eddie refused all of the military’s offers and maintained that he is innocent.

 

They were brought to Camp Capinpin, where a doctor gave him a medical certificate without actually conducting a check-up. On August 28, 2010, Eddie was brought to the Special Intensive Care Unit-1 at Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City, where he remains to this day.

 

Concocted Case

 

The information on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against Eddie Cruz was filed at the Regional Trial Court in San Mateo, Rizal on June 15, 2010. On August 4, 2010, a motion to quash the information or in the alternative, a motion for judicial determination of probable cause with urgent prayer for immediate transfer to a civilian detention facility, was filed by Cruz’s counsel, on the grounds that he was not accorded right to counsel during inquest proceedings and that he was tortured and arbitrarily detained. The court denied the said motion but granted the transfer on August 26, 2010.

 

Cruz, through counsel, filed a rejoinder on September 13, 2010, arguing that the preliminary investigation was tainted with irregularities and that the prosecutors were partial against him. He reiterated that he was tortured, no paraffin tests were conducted, and that the accused was not even made to answer charges against him during the preliminary investigation.

 

The motion to quash was denied by the court on October 19, 2010, while the court ordered the Prosecutor’s Office to conduct a preliminary investigation. On December 20, 2010, the Prosecutor’s Office filed the information on the same charges to the court.

 

Cruz was arraigned on February 15, 2011, and the trial began, with the presentation of evidence against Eddie.

The Prosecution presented its lone witness against Eddie, certain Private First Class Urbi, one of the soldiers who arrested him. His testimony was stalled since it took almost a year before the Prosecution was able to produce the firearm which was allegedly confiscated from Eddie, and the Prosecution repeatedly failed to produce the rifle propelled grenade (RPG) allegedly in possession when arrested. The identification of the firearm and the RPG is part of the testimony of PFC Urbi, and his testimony was terminated only sometime in 2014 after the prosecution failed to present the RPG in court, and after several motions from Eddie’s counsel for the court to waive the presentation of the RPG. Thereafter, the prosecution was required to formally offer its evidence.

 

However, the prosecution failed to file its formal offer of evidence within the period mandated by the court. On April 24, 2014, Cruz, through his counsels from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) filed a Manifestation With Omnibus Motion To Declare the Right of the Prosecution to Formally Offer its Evidence as Waived and for Leave to File Demurrer to Evidence. Instead of considering the prosecution to have waived the filing of its formal offer of evidence, it gave the prosecution additional time to file it.

 

On May 16, 2014, Cruz’s lawyers received a formal offer of evidence of the prosecution. On August 11, 2014, in their comments and objections filed against the formal offer of evidence by the prosecution, Cruz’s lawyers strongly questioned the following evidence against Cruz:

a. That the testimonies of the two arresting officers who filed the cases were highly questionable, revealing that no actual investigation was conducted by said police officers, and in fact disproves allegations that Cruz indeed had possession of said firearms and explosives;

b. That the existence and authenticity of said firearms and explosives were not established and that there is no indication that the firearm was indeed found in Cruz’s possession;

c. That the ammunitions that were supposedly confiscated from Cruz were not clearly identified considering they have distinguishing marks;

d. That the connection of Cruz with the Colt Caliber 5.56 magazine and armalite rifle presented was not sufficiently established; and

e. That Cruz was not a licensed or registered owner of any kind of firearm.

 

The court admitted the exhibits offered by the prosecution. Thereafter, Eddie, through his lawyers filed his Motion for Leave to File Demurrer to Evidence, a court motion to dismiss charges based on insufficiency of evidence. The court denied Cruz’s motion without comment of the Prosecution on January 16, 2015. A motion for reconsideration was filed on March 16, 2015 but the court, again without comment from the prosecution, denied the motion for reconsideration on May 7, 2015 for no valid and justifiable reason.

 

From 2015 to 2016, Cruz’s lawyers presented witnesses and evidence attesting to Eddie’s innocence on the said charges. Eddie’s uncle, Nardo Cruz, and relative Carling De Jesus who along with Eddie were tortured by the military, attested to the cruelty they endured in the hands of their captors and affirmed Eddie’s testimony. His family and co-workers also provided testimonies that Eddie is not a member of the NPA and that the charges against him are all false.   

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