DOJ junks rebellion raps vs 59 Maute suspects

By Evelyn Macairan

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice (DOJ) dismissed the rebellion complaints against 59 men who were stopped at two security checkpoints in Mindanao and accused of attempting to join Islamic State-linked Maute militants who laid siege to Marawi City.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II ordered the dismissal of rebellion charges for lack of strong evidence.

He said the panel led by Senior Assistant Prosecutor Peter Ong recommended the dismissal of the case against the 59 men.

“They did not find the military witness as credible,” Aguirre said.

“It is clear that respondents were not committing the crime of rebellion or any crime at the time of their arrests,” Ong said on Thursday.

The men, who traveled in two big groups, may have sparked the suspicion of troops and police at checkpoints because of the Marawi siege, “but suspicion alone is not sufficient to arrest, detain, charge and indict respondents,” the prosecutors said.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the military respects the prosecutors’ decision but security officials still believe the men could “perhaps be eventually deployed to Marawi.”

The ruling showed the rule of law continues to work under martial law that was declared in Mindanao by President Duterte to deal with the Marawi crisis, Padilla said, adding that the men were treated well and would be flown back home.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana agreed that the dropping of rebellion charges against the 59 suspects only showed the justice system in the country is working.

“That is what the justice system is supposed to do. To let go the innocent and only punish those who have committed crimes,” Lorenzana said.

“I agree with the decision. There is no evidence of their being involved in the rebellion hence they were set free,” he said. 

The Philippine National Police (PNP) declined to comment on the decision.

PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Dionardo Carlos said the AFP has to comment over the dismissal since they arrested the suspects at a military checkpoint.

Regional police spokesperson Chief Insp. Helen Galvez also refused to comment.

“It’s better to get the statement from the AFP since they filed the cases,” she said.

The 59 were taken into custody in Zamboanga City and Ipil town in Zamboanga Sibugay on July 25 amid intelligence reports that Muslim militants would attempt to reinforce the gunmen who attacked Marawi and were being bombarded by military airstrikes and ground assaults.

They were immediately flown to Manila and detained at the highly-secured jail facility in Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City.

A lone witness said the suspects were to be given combat training and then deployed to reinforce the beleaguered Maute militants, who were holding out in buildings and mosques in Marawi.

The arrested men strongly denied the allegation, saying they were recruited by a man who promised to bring them to a rebel camp for combat training and then help them be integrated into the AFP and police under the peace deal between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front.

During a hearing on July 28, some of the arrested men, guarded by heavily armed police commandos, told reporters they were poor and jobless and in search of work and a better life. – With Jaime Laude, Emmanuel Tupas, AP

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