A Philippine court threw out charges Tuesday against a 69-year-old Filipino accused by the military of being a top leader of the country’s long-running communist insurgency, and ordered the government to free him.
The Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 100 sided with the defense by ruling that the arrest of defendant Rafael Baylosis and evidence obtained against him were illegal, as it dismissed charges of rebellion and unlawful possession of firearms.
“The arrest of accused being illegal, the subsequent search on the persons of accused and the purported confiscated items cannot be used as evidence against them,” Judge Editha Miña-Aguba wrote in the court’s 27-page decision.
Baylosis is a political consultant to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and is believed to be the de facto leader of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the movement that has waged a Maoist-inspired rebellion since 1969.
He and an aide were arrested last February in Manila by a joint military and police team, which purportedly seized from them guns and ammunition, among other things. The two were suspected of plotting attacks against select targets. In Tuesday’s ruling, the court ordered their immediate release from detention unless they were jailed for another cause.
Attorney Rachel Pastores, managing counsel of the Public Interest Law Center, a legal defenders’ group representing Baylosis, said his defense team would press counter charges against authorities who were behind his arrest.
These might include former National Police chief Ronaldo dela Rosa, who insisted that the police operation was legitimate and the arrest valid. Dela Rosa, a long-time aide to President Rodrigo Duterte, has since retired from his post and is running as a senator in elections coming up in May.
Pastores said the court’s ruling exposed how the police had carried out illegal actions, including baseless arrests, against peace consultants and political activists.
“For false implication and faulty prosecution, Baylosis will press counter-charges against the errant policemen and military men,” Pastores said.
Karapatan, a Philippine human rights group, welcomed the court’s decision, saying it strengthened cases of others jailed under similar circumstances.
“This case also affirms the common practice of illegal searches and arrests and the planting of evidence of police officers to put in jail those who are considered “enemies of the state,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said in a statement.
“It is borne out of the government’s devious campaign of political persecution against peace and rights advocates,” Palabay said.
Sweeps against CPP officials
Baylosis was among those nabbed by government in a flurry of arrests last year. Months after he was taken in, troops and police arrested Vicente Ladlad, 68, a ranking member of the CPP and two others. Like Baylosis, Ladlad and the other suspects were allegedly plotting attacks against government targets.
Military officials later filed charges against Ladlad and other CPP leaders for their alleged involvement in the killing of CPP members who were suspected of being government spies. The remains of 67 people believed to be former CPP rebels were unearthed in 2006 in the central island of Leyte.
Shortly after assuming office in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte, a self-described leftist, opened peace talks with the CPP and released dozens of detained insurgent leaders as a goodwill measure. But the talks went nowhere, with Duterte accusing the NPA of reneging on a truce and carrying on with attacks amid the negotiations.
Tens of thousands have been killed in the 50-year-old rebellion, one of the longest in Southeast Asia. It has also left deep pockets of poverty in the countryside.
On Tuesday, however, Duterte’s spokesman, said the chief executive was still open to negotiating peace with the communists, but on condition that they cease targeting civilian communities and government targets.
“The only condition he has imposed is that, stop doing the ambuscades and stop your extortion activities, and we’ll go back to the negotiation table,” spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Cotabato City, Philippines.