Karapatan assails guilty verdict on trade unionist Maoj Maga’s case

Today, June 3, 2019, Maoj Maga was falsely convicted of the trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms by the San Mateo Rizal Regional Trial Court Branch 76. Maga was illegally arrested on February 22, 2018 while playing basketball in his neighborhood, when police and military operatives accosted him and planted firearms in his belongings. Prior to his arrest, Maga came from accompanying his 8-year-old son to school. He is also facing fabricated murder charges in Agusan del Norte where he has never been to. 

“Maoj’s unjust and condemnable conviction is an impetus for human rights advocates, trade unionists and activists to continue pushing back against a climate of political persecution and reprisal. We reiterate that unionism is not a crime, and trade unionists like Maoj are advocates who continue to raise workers’ legitimate demands despite an increasingly hostile environment. We are one with Maoj’s family, with his wife and 8-year-old son, in condemning his conviction. Alongside his counsel, we hope to explore other means to contest this decision and reiterate his innocence in relation to the fabricated charges against him,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.

Maga is currently imprisoned at the Metro Manila District Jail 4 in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig City, and is set to be transferred to the New Bilibid Prison following his wrongful conviction. 

Palabay emphasized that “the circumstances of Maoj’s arrest are ludicrous. Who would carry a 45-caliber gun while dropping your son to school and subsequently, while playing basketball? This scenario can only make sense in the eyes of twisted operatives who are determined to incriminate an innocent man for his activism.”

The Karapatan official also linked the successive arrests of activists and human rights defenders to the formation of the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA). “There are 532 political prisoners in the country, and IACLA has invested all its resources in falsely jailing this government’s critics. The illegal arrest, detention, and conviction of Maoj Maga shows an orchestrated operation to silence dissenters,” she added.

Palabay also likened Maga’s case to the conviction of NDFP peace consultant Eduardo Sarmiento back in 2014 during the administration of Benigno Aquino III. “The court decided to convict Sarmiento despite the failure of the prosecution to prove the offense charged beyond reasonable doubt and to establish the chain of custody of evidence, blindly relying on the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties over the constitutional right of the accused to be presumed innocent. The cases of Sarmiento and Maga show the continuity of political persecution across successive regimes,” she further stated. 

“We firmly stand against the weaponization of the law and the courts to politically persecute activists. Maga’s case should have been dismissed, and his false conviction should be overturned. Maoj is a trade union activist. He is not a criminal, he is not a terrorist. This decision furthers the injustice inflicted on Maoj and his family, and it puts our entire justice system to shame,” Palabay concluded.