Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Longer Version of the Sad Story..

Court acquits Arroyo ally
CA rules gunman’s confession not enoughBy Leila SalaverriaPhilippine Daily InquirerFirst Posted 01:52:00 03/20/2008
MANILA, Philippines—Former Occidental Mindoro Rep. Jose Villarosa Wednesday walked out of the Makati Medical Center a free man. He had been staying in the hospital since December after reportedly undergoing lung surgery.
Saying the mere confession of the gunman implicating Villarosa as one of those who planned the killing of brothers Paul and Michael Quintos was not enough, the Court of Appeals overturned his and three others’ murder conviction handed down by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court in 2006.
Estelito Mendoza, Villarosa’s counsel, said the acquittal of the four men was immediately executory.
In acquitting Villarosa, the appellate court said circumstances failed to show “an unbroken chain which leads one to fairly and reasonably conclude that accused-appellant Villarosa planned or authored the crimes.”
“If a person is acquitted after trial, his presumption of innocence becomes conclusive because of the principle of double jeopardy ... Those who are acquitted are completely free,” Mendoza told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview.
The appellate court’s fifth division, in a decision penned by Justice Noel Tijam and dated March 18, ordered the release of Villarosa and “Mamburao 6” farmers Ruben Balaguer, Gelito Bautista and Mario Tobias.
The other members of the fifth division are Martin Villarama and Sesinando Villon.
Prison authorities officially released Villarosa from custody Wednesday afternoon, said Supt. Ramon Reyes, the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) officer in charge.
Conviction of 3 others upheld
The appellate court upheld the conviction of three other farmers, including that of Eduardo Hermoso whose confession had implicated the ex-lawmaker in the planning of the killings.
Hermoso, Manolito Matricio and Josue Ungsod were sentenced to reclusion perpetua (up to 40 years) for each count of murder and ordered to pay damages to Paul and Michael Quintos’ heirs.
Because it was established that the three had conspired to shoot the brothers, each of them should suffer a “three-fold penalty of reclusion perpetua for each count of murder,” the appellate court added.
Sons of political rival
Paul and Michael were the sons of Villarosa’s political rival Ricardo Quintos, who were slain in an ambush inside a friend’s house in Mamburao town on Dec. 13, 1997. Michael was shot first by a group of gunmen, who followed him as he tried to escape from the house. Paul was later seen slain inside the same house.
Villarosa and a group of farmers known as the “Mamburao 6” were sentenced to death for the murders.
As for Ricardo Quintos’ plan to question the acquittal in the Supreme Court, its spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez said such a petition could be filed based on the possible grave abuse of discretion on the lower court’s part.
But Marquez said reversals of acquittals are not common.
Uncorroborated confession
The court said Hermoso’s extrajudicial confession was not corroborated by any other evidence, hence it could not be used to pin Villarosa down.
The appellate court added that even the political rivalry between Villarosa and Quintos was not enough proof of the former’s involvement in the crime. That Villarosa knew Matricio did not necessarily mean that the former lawmaker was involved in killing the brothers either.
Hermoso, in his confession, said that he was the gunman and that he was present in the Oct. 7, 1997 meeting where Villarosa discussed the killing of Michael. Hermoso later recanted the confession, however, and alleged that he was tortured by the National Bureau of Investigation to make the confession.
“The political dispute between Villarosa and Ricardo Quintos, or Villarosa’s association with Matricio, did not place Villarosa in the conspiratorial meetings or at the scene of the crime. Indeed, the prosecution presented no independent physical or testimonial evidence that could connect Villarosa to the crime or its preparatory stages,” the appellate court said.
“In the end, the circumstantial evidence relied upon by the Trial Court consists merely of familiarity and motive; these are clearly insufficient to corroborate Hermoso’s confession as to prove Villarosa’s guilt to a moral certainty,” it added.
The appellate court also pointed out that Villarosa’s alibi that he was at the House of Representatives in Quezon City on the day of the alleged planning of the attack in Mindoro appeared to be credible.
It pointed out that the House’s journal showed that he was in Congress from 5:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. of that day and was defending a fisheries bill that he sponsored, thus corroborating his argument that he was far from the province during the alleged planning. The planning allegedly took place in the afternoon of that day.
The Quezon City RTC had ruled that there were other modes of transportation that Villarosa could use, such as a helicopter or a light plane, which was why he could have been in Mindoro in the afternoon and then flew to Quezon City later.
“The Trial Court’s opinion, however, overly stretches the realm of possibilities in the appreciation of Villarosa’s alibi ... Mindoro, by common standards, cannot be considered geographically proximate to Manila (or Quezon City where the Batasan is), and travel by helicopter or light plane remains an uncommon and infrequently utilized mode of transportation,” it said.
Money given to farmers
The checkbooks presented by the prosecution to show the alleged connection between Villarosa and Matricio and Hermoso were also inadequate proof of a conspiracy.
What these showed, said the appellate court, was that Villarosa gave money to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the families of Matricio, Hermoso and Balaguer, “but they do not show that the payment was made in pursuance of the plan to kill the victims or in consideration of the killing.”
As for the three farmers also cleared of the murder charges, the appellate court said the only evidence presented against them was Hermoso’s uncorroborated extrajudicial confession.
The court said the constitutional presumption of innocence of Villarosa, Balaguer, Bautista and Tobias was not overturned by the prosecution.
“We commiserate with the bereaved families of the victims Michael and Paul Quintos, but as a court, we can only render judgment based on the evidence, and apply the law and jurisprudence,” the appellate court said.
Eyewitness accounts
In ruling to uphold the conviction of the three farmers, the appellate court gave greater weight to eyewitness accounts that placed them at the crime scene. It also said it was shown that the three men had conspired to kill the brothers.
It also said Hermoso’s confession was admissible because he failed to provide evidence that it was not voluntarily given.
The appellate court noted that Hermoso had many instances during which he could complain about allegedly being forced to own up to the crime.
The voluntariness of Hermoso’s confession was shown by the many details of how the crime was planned and executed, despite his claim that the NBI and another man had fed him the details, according to the appellate court.
Contrary to OSG comment
The court’s finding was contrary to the contention of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), which had told the court in a comment that the confession should not be admitted because it was made in the absence of Hermoso’s lawyer.
The OSG had also sought the acquittal of Villarosa, Bautista, Balaguer and Tobias and the conviction of the three others.
The appellate court said a videotape, plus pictures, also showed that Hermoso had confessed on his own volition, with the help of a lawyer and without any intimidation from NBI agents.
The death of another accused in the custody of the NBI did not prove torture or that Hermoso had been maltreated, it added.
The appellate court also said that even if Hermoso’s confession was admissible, this did not mean that it was completely credible.
It said Hermoso claimed to be a lookout along with Tobias, while Matricio shot Michael, but eyewitness accounts showed that Hermoso was the one who shot Michael in Nicasio Tadeja’s house.
As for Matricio, the appellate court said there were also eyewitnesses who testified that he shot Michael and poked a gun at a woman who had tried to help the victim.
Ungsod’s conviction was also upheld because a witness saw him firing his gun upward outside Tadeja’s house during the killing.
Artist sketch
The appellate court junked Ungsod’s argument that the artist’s sketch presented in court looked too different from him. It said there were similarities in the shape of the face, prominence of cheekbones and size of the ears.
It also said the credibility of the eyewitnesses were untarnished, and added that it was immaterial that Tadeja used to work for the Quintoses at GCFI Farms.
As for Hermoso, Matricio and Tobias’ argument that the elder Quintos had wanted to implicate them in the murder to silence their fight for farmers’ rights, the appellate court said it was unnatural for a father who lost two sons to push for his political interests instead of punishing the true culprits behind the killings.
The appellate court also found no merit in the three men’s alibis that they were in another place during the time of the killing.
It said KMP chair Rafael Mariano, who testified that Matricio had asked his permission to work in a construction site in Batangas where the latter was supposedly working during the killings, had no personal knowledge of Matricio’s whereabouts that day.
As for the three men’s motive, the appellate court said there was animosity between the Quintos family and the farmers who claimed to be beneficiaries of GCFI Farms.
The elder Quintos had been accused of abuses, with farmers alleging that he refused them entry into the farms and had his security guards fire at them.
Hermoso’s confession also showed that the killing of the Quintos brothers was to vindicate the farmers’ rights and avenge the killing of Marcelo de la Cruz.
“Taking these circumstances together with other evidence pointing to the accused-appellant Hermoso, Matricio and Ungsod as the culprits, this Court is convinced that they had a sufficiently plausible motive to kill the victims who are sons of Ricardo Quintos,” the appellate court said.
NPA admission not enough
The communist New People’s Army’s alleged admission of the crime was also not enough to acquit the three men because the one who gave the statement, a Rizaldy Prado, was not presented in court. NPA spokesperson Ka Roger Rosal’s admission was also hearsay, it added.

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