Court rules charging common crimes instead of rebellion must end

By Jonas Cabiles Soltes

“REBELLION should be treated as rebellion, not as common criminality,” so says a Naga Regional Trial Court in a judgment that absolves a supposed rebel from a murder case over the death of an Army sergeant Independence Day last year.


Gemma B. Castro was the alleged member of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), who was charged with murder in September of 2021 in the aftermath of a clash between government soldiers and suspected communist guerillas in Barangay Salvacion,Pasacao, Camarines Sur.


The victim was Sergeant Norley Bare of the 9th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army based in Camp Elias Angeles in Pili, Camarines Sur. Sergeant Bare, a father of four, was pronounced dead on arrival by the attending physician in a hospital in Naga City, hours after he was shot in the upper back during the firefight.


The RTC primarily acquitted Castro because it believed that the testimony of the prosecution witness was not reliable.


During the trial, the prosecution witness told the Court that he saw Castro during the firefight “from a distance of 50 meters away.” In the Court decision, however, Judge Soliman M. Santos Jr said the identification of the accused by the witness could be doubted.


“Various academic and scientific studies find that recognizing someone’s face starts to degrade [starting from] 34 feet and progresses in intensity as to the distance and conditions where it is situated,” the Court said, citing an earlier study.


Judge Santos in a judgment rendered dated September 6, 2022 ruled on criminal case number 2021-0999 that the accused must be acquitted from the “serious charge” of murder “on this score alone of reasonable doubt.”


The accused, the Court added, also had a credible alibi that she was in Mexico town in Pampanga province at the time of the incident.


Aside from the recently decided case, Castro is facing five other charges in Camarines Norte province as of this writing.


“Wrong charge”


The acquittal could have been an ordinary case of a suspected criminal being exonerated because the prosecution failed to convince the Court that the accused was guilty beyond reasonable doubt if not for a strongly-worded scolding embedded in the judgment.


Santos said the case could be another situation in which a common crime was charged against suspected rebels instead of rebellion, adding that the murder case filed against Castro was “clearly in the context of the CPP-NPA rebellion” in the Philippines and was not a usual murder case.


The ruling released just this week said it was high time to end the long-time practice of the military and the police and prosecutors “from the dark era of martial law” of filing charges of murder and other common crimes for what should be political offenses, citing the political offense doctrine.


The political offense doctrine says that “common crimes perpetrated in furtherance of political offense are divested of their character as common offenses and assume the political complexion of the main crime of which they are mere ingredients, and, consequently, cannot be punished separately from the principal offense, or complexed with the same, to justify the imposition of a graver penalty.”


The Court ruling added that the “element of mental dishonesty” in cases such as the one filed against Castro could worsen a wrong charge because the accusation would be based not on propriety or correctness but on “what will make it harder for the accused, what has the higher penalty, what is non- bailable, and what is easier to prove.”


“A wrong charge is like the wrong medicine for a certain ailment. Rebellion should be treated as rebellion, not as common criminality, the ruling said.