KARAPATAN URGENT APPEAL:
RELEASE EDUARDO SARMIENTO NOW!
13 January 2014
Dear friends and colleagues,
Greetings of peace!
On 11 December 2013, Eduardo Sarmiento, a consultant of the National
Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in the peace process with the
Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH), was sentenced to 20
to 40 years imprisonment by Judge Myra Bayot Quiambao of the Muntinlupa
Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 203, on the basis of trumped up criminal
charge of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Lawyers of
Sarmiento are challenging the conviction, through a motion for
reconsideration filed before the local court, and have also sought, for
the second time, for the judge to inhibit herself from the case. These
pleas are expected to be heard on Friday, 17 January 2014.
His arrest and detention is based on allegations of fabricated charges of
arson, multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder filed against him in
the courts of Samar and of illegal possession of firearms and explosives
in Muntinlupa. All the charges in Samar have been dismissed due to lack of
Sarmiento was serving as the NDF consultant representing the Eastern
Visayas Region in the peace negotiations with the GPH since 1986. Prior to
the imposition of Martial Law, he was an active member of the KM (Kabataang
Makabayan or Patriotic Youth) while studying at the University of Eastern
Philippines in Northern Samar. He was imprisoned twice by the Martial Law
regime because of his political beliefs. In his third year in college as
an AB Political Science major, he decided to work full-time with the
national democratic movement. Despite the perils of state repression that
continued under the Corazon Aquino administration, when killings of
activists and revolutionary leaders commenced, he represented the NDFP in
various public fora and negotiations in Eastern Visayas as spokesperson
and representative of the NDFP in the local peacetalks with the GPH.
Sarmiento hails from Catarman, Northern Samar, a province located in the
poorest region in the Philippines.
In February 2009, Sarmiento went to Metro Manila to participate in peace
negotiations, when he was arrested by the Armed Forces of the Philippines
(AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP). Sarmiento was blindfolded,
forced to go inside a van, and was taken to an undisclosed location for
interrogation and torture for 24 hours before being taken to the Southern
Police District Jail. It was only then when he knew of the charges against
him. The arresting police officers claimed to have found a grenade in his
bag, a claim being disputed by Sarmiento and his lawyer. The grenade, they
allege, was planted evidence, as the police did not follow required chain
of custody of evidence procedure and did not document the grenade in the
presence of Sarmiento or his counsel. Police testimonies during the court
hearings indicate several irregularities regarding documentation of the
supposed evidence. Sarmiento said that he was not carrying a grenade and
that the first time that he saw the grenade was during his court trial.
Lawyers of Sarmiento are set to argue for the motion for reconsideration
on his conviction on the basis that the court committed serious errors in
its December 2013 judgement particularly on insufficient proof of his
guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and several gross irregularities in the
chain of custody of the evidence presented and the highly questionable
performance of duties of the arresting officers.
Sarmiento’s lawyers are also asking for the judge to voluntarily withdraw
from the case. In 2009, the judge was a Senior State Solicitor at the
Office of the Solicitor General and she was part of “Task Force
Rebellion,”a team of the GPH to review the cases of NDF consultants in the
peace process. Given her previous involvement on the part of the GPH,
there are serious questions regarding her objectivity and impartiality to
the case. Sarmiento’s lawyers are asking that the judge voluntarily
withdraw from the case so that another judge can review the judgement.
Sarmiento is on his fifth year of detention in Camp Crame, where he
continues to conduct education work among fellow prisoners on their rights
to fair and humane treatment inside jail as well on the various issues
being confronted by the Filipino people, including the latest developments
on the issue of pork barrel and corrupt practices of government officials,
as well as the incompetence of the Aquino administration on the relief and
rehabilitation for typhoon victims in the region where he hailed from.
Sarmiento is also a cultural worker, who uses various art forms to express
the views of the people’s movement on various issues. Since his elementary
days, it has been his passion to draw, but it was only in prison where he
first attempted to write poems and paint. Except for his regular
contribution of poems drawings to LARAB (Flame), the underground
revolutionary news magazine in Eastern Visayas, he has not pursued
painting or other art work outside of prison, due to other work priorities
in the movement. Before his current detention, his last painting was in
1975—in a Lapu-lapu, Cebu prison camp. Since his arrest in 2007, he has
written poems, children’s stories, and song lyrics. He has also made
several paintings, the latest batch of his paintings were exhibited
together with fellow political prisoner Alan Jazmines’ work.
Karapatan views the case of Eduardo Sarmiento as a case that illustrates
the injustices being suffered by all political prisoners in the country --
rights violations which are being perpetuated by the Benigno S. Aquino
administration through the counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan
(Operational Plan Shoulder-to-Shoulder). At present, 449 political
prisoners – 154 of them illegally arrested and detained under the current
administration – remain imprisoned.
Aside from the injustices he suffered during his illegal arrest and
detention, Sarmiento, as an NDF consultant in the peace negotiations, is
covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG)
signed on 24 February 1995 by the GPH and the NDFP. The JASIG provides
that consultants and negotiators in the peace process are guaranteed free
passage in the country and should have immunity from surveillance,
harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation due
to their involvement or participation in the peace negotiations. Sarmiento
was listed as a peace consultant in the 2001 JASIG list and should not
have been arrested nor convicted under this agreement.
Sarmiento’s case is another clear indication that the Aquino
administration is blocking all roads towards peace and is in fact
exacerbating poverty, repression, plunder of the country’s resources and
violations on our sovereignty, miserably failing to fully resolve the root
causes of the armed conflict. It has failed to demonstrate good faith and
sincerity in respecting and implementing agreements and commitments to the
NDFP-GPH peace negotiations, including its commitment to release most, if
not all, detained peace consultants. It has continued the malicious
practice of prosecuting NDF consultants in the peace negotiations for
trumped up charges, and have denied justice for the peace consultants
arrested, detained, killed and disappeared during the past regime. Through
Oplan Bayanihan, it has spawned killings and other human rights
We appeal to our fellow human rights advocates all over the world to issue
public statements and communicate with Philippine authorities to press for
the immediate release of Sarmiento and all political prisoners. We enjoin
you to demand that the Philippine government stop its repressive policy of
filing trumped up charges against political activists and peace workers,
and its counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan. We call on you to
appeal for the resumption of the peace negotiations between the GPH and
NDFP. Attached is a template letter for Philippine authorities, which can
be used for communicating your support for this appeal, and a picture of
Sarmiento. You can also view his artworks through the following links:
Thank you very much.
(SGD) Cristina Palabay
Secretary General, Karapatan
January 17, 2014
Reference: Cristina “Tinay” Palabay, Secretary General, 0917-3162831
Angge Santos, Media Liaison, 0918-9790580
Counsels to contest detained NDFP consultant's
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
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
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 to 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
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. ###