Counsels to contest detained NDFP consultant's conviction

Free Ed Sarmiento 

Today, recently convicted peace consultant Eduardo Sarmiento  and his lawyers are set to argue on their Second Urgent Motion for Inhibition and Motion for Reconsideration at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 203. 

Sarmiento is a National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant who represented the Eastern Visayas Region in the peace negotiations with the Government of Philippines (GPH). Being a Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees  (JASIG) holder, he is supposedly protected from arrest and detention or persecution to be able to perform his duties in the peace process.

"Yet, the BS Aquino government violated this agreement several times when it pressed Sarmiento and other NDFP consultants with trumped up charges," Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan said. 
Sarmiento was found by Judge Myra Bayot-Quiambao guilty of the charge of illegal possession of firearms and explosives despite having a planted evidence.

Sarmiento's counsels from the Public Interest Law Center and the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers moved to inhibit Bayot-Quiambao. According to the Motion,  "the presiding judge made such ruling despite the fact that no evidence was presented that could establish the gravity of the offense... The prosecution miserably failed to establish the identity of the corpus delicti, i.e. fragmentation grenade."

The counsels raised serious questions regarding the presiding judge's  objectivity and impartiality to the case.  Bayot-Quiambao served as Senior State Prosecutor from 2002 to 2009, and was included in the GPH team created by then Justice secretary Agnes Devanadera to look into the cases of the consultants to the peace process and work for their release.

Thus, "having participated in some discussions on the consultants' cases in the peace process and having taken the position of the government, the presiding judge should have inhibited herself when she was asked for the first time to recuse herself in hearing the case," the counsels argued. 

The motion further stated, "The manifest bias of the presiding judge in favor of the prosecution during hearing for the case left the accused in serious doubt as to her impartiality on rendering a just ruling," the motion stated. 

Sarmiento's Motion for Reconsideration, on the other hand, stated that "the honorable court committed serious errors of facts and law in finding the accused (Sarmiento) guilty of violating PD 1866, as amended by RA 9516 despite the (1.) failure of the prosecution to prove the offense charged beyond reasonable doubt, (2.) failure of the prosecution to establish the chain of custody of the fragmented grenade, and (3.) blindly relying on the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties over the constitutional right of the accused to be presumed innocent."
Two other criminal charges -- for the use of fictitious name and arson -- that were filed against Sarmiento are already dismissed. 

Karapatan, Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) and other human rights and peace advocates  gathered in front of the RTC during the hearing to call for the release of Sarmiento and the other 12 detained NDFP peace consultants.