HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYERS from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) have asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its earlier reversal of an award for civil damages to victims of human rights abuses under the Marcos regime and exonerating several former military officers, including now-Senator Panfilo Lacson.
In an omnibus motion for reconsideration filed by FLAG national chairman Atty. Jose Manuel Diokno, the group argued that there was nothign wrong with the decision of a Quezon City Regional Trial Court that found former armed forces chief of staff Gen. Fabian Ver, former military intelligence group head Panfilo Lacson, and several other military officers guilty of torturing Rogelio Aberca and 18 other suspected subversives. The accused had been ordered to pay the victims P350,000 in damages each.
Last week, the Supreme Court 3rd division junked the QC RTC decision, saying the accused military officers were denied due process.
In particular, the high tribunal said that the accused were not duly notified by the QC RTC of the case against them, thus depriving them of the chance to defend themselves in court.
The original case was promulgated by QC RTC judge Delilah Magtolis in 1993. The respondent military officials filed an appeal before the Court of Appeals. In 2003, the CA ruled in favor of the respondents. The case was elevated to the Supreme Court for final judgement.
Diokno said this is the longest running human rights case in Philippine legal history, and the first case that upheld and applied the principle of command responsibility for military officials and their subordinates.
The case was originally filed by the human rights victims in 1983. The complaint was first dismissed by Judge Wilhelm Fortun, but it was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1988.
Diokno said the respondents were notified that the case was reinstated in October 1988 through their then-counsel, the Office of the Solicitor General. The OSG would remain their counsels until 1990, when the Supreme Court ruled that public officials cannot be represented by the OSG for felony offenses.
The problem arose after the 1986 EDSA revolution, when the officers changed their addresses and official posts. The RTC could not locate the respondents through their home addresses, and relied on a notice published in a newspaper. The CA and the Supreme Court ruled that this violated their right to due process.
But Diokno said proof that the respondents were well aware of the case was the fact that they had been filing motions to dismiss the case through their lawyers. Moreover, Diokno said it was the obligation of the respondents to keep in touch with the court, and be updated with the proceedings, especially since they were aware that there was a case pending against them. Diokno said Judge Magtolis gave the respondents every chance to respond to the charges against them, and it was the fault of the respondents that they could not be located by the court.