Despite leaders acquittal, grim fate of Inopacan victims remains

By Priam Nepomuceno / Philippine News Agency

National Security Adviser and NTF-ELCAC vice chair Hermogenes Esperon Jr. (File photo)

MANILA – An official of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) on Sunday said despite the acquittal of 15 of 40 communist leaders and members, the grim fate suffered by Inopacan massacre victims in the evil hands of Jose Maria Sison and his co-defendants remains.


Secretary Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., vice-chairperson of NTF-ELCAC, expressed disappointment to the decision of the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) to acquit 15 Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army – National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) leaders for their role in the Inopacan massacre in Leyte in 1985.


"We are deeply saddened and dismayed with the news that the Manila RTC Branch 32, under Presiding Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina, has granted the demurrers to evidence resulting in the acquittal of known communists, namely: former Bayan Muna representative Satur Ocampo; National Democratic Front consultants Vicente Ladlad, Rafael Baylosis and Adelberto Silva, among others, two for the perpetration of at least 15 summary executions in the killing fields by the NPA in Sapang Dako, Inopacan, Leyte in the 1980s," said Esperon Jr., who is also National Security Adviser.


He said the murder cases were filed to give justice to the gruesome deaths of 67 persons, whose skeletal remains were unearthed in the said Leyte town on Aug. 28, 2006.


After the mass grave discovery, Esperon, who was then the Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, filed 15 counts of murder before the Manila Regional Trial Court against CPP founding chair Jose Maria Sison and 37 others for their alleged involvement in the massacre.


Also sued were couple Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, Ocampo, Ladlad, Randal Echaniz, Baylosis, and Exusperado Lloren, among others.


The victims, all NPA rebels, were summarily executed for reportedly working with the government based on the orders of the CPP.


"The clear intention behind the Inopacan massacre case is to stand, speak, and obtain justice for the dead -- the victims and their families. With the purest intentions, we fought for what is right and the truth. We hoped that light will shine and pass through even in the eye of the needle," Esperon said.


The acquittal, he said, does not mean that the crimes were not committed.


The Supreme Court (SC) held that once a demurrer to evidence has been granted in a criminal case, this amounts to an acquittal.


"With the quantum of evidence of proof beyond reasonable doubt required by our criminal judicial system, we still emphasize that a ruling in favor of the accused does not equate to innocence nor the finding that the crime did not happen. The philosophy is based on Blackstone's formulation that it is better to acquit ten guilty men, than to convict an innocent man. To reiterate, the decision is based on insufficiency of evidence and not that the crime did not happen at all," Esperon said.


He added that prevailing law and jurisprudence recognize two kinds of acquittal.


"First is an acquittal on the ground that the accused is not the author of the act or omission complained of. The second instance is an acquittal based on reasonable doubt on the guilt of the accused," he said, adding that acquittal on this case lies on the second kind, grounded on the alleged insufficiency of prosecution’s evidence.


"Again, it does not mean that the 15 murder cases were not committed and that the accused were not responsible for the gruesome crimes," he said. This simply means that the quantum of evidence of proof beyond reasonable doubt was not met in eyes of the presiding judge.”


"Still, the technical victory of the communists, in this case, does not obliterate in the eyes of history and of the people their brutal killing fields and summary executions without due process -- the emblem of their egregious and blatant disrespect of human rights and sanctity to life which they purport to protect," he added.


The NTF-ELCAC, he said, is unmoved by this temporary setback and numerous cases and warrants are still pending for the communists and their coddlers who sow terrorism and acts of injustice.


He added that the SC's upholding of the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 will greatly aid in the prosecution of the malevolent evildoers and bring them to the doorstep of justice.


"With your help and cooperation, the NTF-ELCAC remains steadfast in its quest to vanquish communist terrorism and will hunt down and prosecute those who are liable to the fullest extent of the law," Esperon said.


The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.


The NDF has been formally designated as a terrorist organization by the Anti-Terrorism Council on June 23, 2021, citing it as “an integral and separate part” of the CPP-NPA created in April 1973. (PNA)

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