MANILA, Philippines — A farmer from Basey town in Samar province arrested by the military on suspicion of being a rebel was acquitted this week of what human rights activists called the “trumped up” criminal charge of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
In clearing Elpidio Romanca, Judge Tarcelo Sabarre Jr. of Regional Trial Court Branch 30 said the prosecution blundered badly because “the gun identified at the trial differs from the gun described in the amended information” and also raised “dubious claims” about the accused farmer’s “connection to the house (where the gun was found) …” the human rights group Karapatan said, quoting from the June 22 verdict.
Romanca, said the rights group, was wounded in head and right thigh when “the military indiscriminately fired at his home during an encounter with the (New People’s Army) in Barangay Mabini, Basey” on November 16, 2014.
He was arrested on suspicion of being a rebel and later taken to Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City where he was “held incommunicado for almost three months,” until he was released on bail in February 2015.
Romanca’s defense was handled by the Public Attorney’s Office.
Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo S. Clamor noted that 166 of the 403 political prisoners as of May 15 this year are facing similar charges as Romanca.
“In absolutely all cases, the evidence against these political prisoners are planted and/or tampered, the investigation and chain of custody of evidence is severely flawed, and the military harass or intimidate witnesses to perjure their testimonies,” he claimed, calling their continued detention and prosecution “the height of injustice.”