Sep 262014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/07/08MANILA1759.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA1759
2008-07-23 08:56
2011-08-30 01:44
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO3980
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #1759/01 2050856
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 230856Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1382
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK IMMEDIATE 0274
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 001759

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP AND DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL ELAB RP
SUBJECT: COURT CONVICTS SOLDIER FOR DISAPPEARANCES

REF: MANILA 1706 (RAMPING UP INVESTIGATION AND
PROSECUTION OF LABOR AND OTHER
EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS)

¶1. (U) SUMMARY: A regional trial court July 18 convicted an
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) corporal for abduction
and illegal detention of six civilians who disappeared in
October 2000, sentencing the defendant to a minimum of 54
years in prison. In the absence of physical evidence,
including the victims’ bodies, the new testimony of an army
sergeant was pivotal in securing the guilty verdict. This
case is remarkable because convictions in disappearance cases
are rare. Prosecutors in these cases face a requirement to
have evidence of kidnapping or killing, while witnesses may
be unwilling to testify and administrative delays obstruct a
trial’s progress. This most recent conviction shows how
perseverance of the victims’ families and testimony from a
key witness, even several years after a trial has begun, can
still contribute to a successful prosecution. This is the
first-ever court victory for the NGO involved in the case,
which is working on 15 other unresolved disappearance cases.
While the case exemplifies the shortcomings of the justice
system, it also shows that the system can deliver convictions
in some of the most difficult cases. END SUMMARY.

PROMPT ACTION BY HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
—————————————-

¶2. (U) The case stems from the October 2000 disappearance of
six civilians in Agusan del Sur, Mindanao, following threats
made by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Corporal
Rodrigo Billones of the 62nd Infantry Battalion. Less than
two weeks after the disappearances, the Commission on Human
Rights (CHR) assisted the victims’ families by issuing
subpoenas for Billones. When he failed to appear, CHR issued
an additional subpoena to the commanding officer and sent
copies of the complaint to the AFP Chief of Staff for
administrative sanctioning. Victims’ families then filed
separate complaints and, after a preliminary investigation in
December, 2000, the case prosecutor filed charges of
abduction and serious illegal detention with the court in
Agusan del Sur. In January 2001, the court issued an arrest
warrant for Billones, who finally appeared in court in June
that year and was held in detention from then on.

STILL A LENGTHY TRIAL
———————

¶3. (U) The trial of Billones took just under eight years to
conclude because of the difficulty of obtaining witness
testimony and because of pervasive inefficiencies in the
Philippine judicial system, which allows for discontinuous
trials. Administrative obstacles in this case included 39
hearing postponements, various defense tactics such as the
filing of motions, and the periodic assignment of new judges
to the court. However, in a clear break for the case, a
former AFP sergeant submitted an affidavit to the CHR that he
saw the six victims in an army camp and that they were
tortured and killed by AFP members, including a colonel and a
lieutenant who had both served in the 62nd Infantry Battalion
with Billones. The former sergeant finally testified against
Billones in November 2007 paving the way for last week’s
guilty verdict. The accused was convicted and fined damages
for being an accomplice to the disappearances, and was
sentenced to 9 to 15 years in prison for each of the six
complaints — a minimum of 54 years, tantamount to a life
sentence. In the decision, the regional trial court judge
also instructed the Department of Justice to conduct a
separate inquiry on the criminal liability of the two other
AFP officials allegedly involved in the disappearances.

NGO FOR THE DISAPPEARED HAS RARE VICTORY
—————————————-

¶4. (U) In this case, the attorney hired by the victims’
families was a member of the NGO Families of Victims of
Involuntary Disappearances (FIND). He served as both legal
counsel for the families and as a “private prosecutor,”
deputized by the public prosecutor to move the case through
the judicial process, a format common in other kinds of
criminal cases, such as trafficking. Of the 16 disappearance
cases on which FIND is working, this is the first and only
case that the NGO has seen resolved, and without the
testimony of the former army sergeant the case might have
been dismissed. Many of FIND’s cases on disappearances from
the 1990s are still in court, although the NGO told Post they

MANILA 00001759 002 OF 002

thought this case was resolved relatively quickly. Since
convictions in disappearance trials are rare, FIND calls this
a “breakthrough” victory that gives them hope for other
disappearance cases.

COMMENT
——-

¶5. (SBU) This case is significant because it shows that the
Philippine government, when faced with new information, is
willing to convict army officials in disappearance cases
whose trails ran cold long ago. Even more importantly, this
case succeeded despite the odds. It sat for six years with
no new leads and, as a disappearance case, did not benefit
from the involvement of the Philippine National Police’s Task
Force USIG, which investigates extrajudicial killings. USIG
does not investigate disappearance cases and in addition only
investigates cases filed since the beginning of President
Arroyo’s administration in 2001. While the end result
illustrates that the government is serious about solving
disappearances, some persistent obstacles in the justice
system remain, including administrative delays, overburdened
prosecutors, and witness reticence. Still, the verdict in
such a difficult and lengthy case as this shows that the
Philippines justice system is ultimately capable of
delivering convictions.

KENNEY

   

 

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