PHILIPPINES: Some comments on the murder trial of Temogen Tulawie

A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC-STM-009-2014

9 January 2014

On December 18, 2013, the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 19 in Manila City , commenced the trial of Temogen “Cocoy” Tulawie, an indigenous activist, who is being prosecuted for fabricated charges of attempted murder, in connection with a bombing incident on May 13, 2009 in Patikul, Sulu.

Photo: Mussah Tulawie, wife of Temogen, (in the middle), is seen outside the court after the trial.

After the transfer of the trial of his case in Manila over a year ago, it was Tulawie’s first hearing on which private prosecutors presented their witnesses. Tulawie and four others are on trial for allegedly ‘masterminding’ and ‘plotting’ to assassinate Abdusakur Tan, present vice governor of Sulu, in the same bombing incident. Seven of Tan’s security escorts and four other people were injured.

The AHRC, along with other international court observers, attended the first trial. Mr. Danilo Reyes, the AHRC’s deputy executive director, noted with concern the testimonies of the witnesses for the prosecution, and the procedures applied, in the admission of its witness to the Witness Protection Programme (WPP).

Firstly, the private prosecutors presented an expert witness, a police officer who claimed to have conducted a crime scene investigation of over thousands of bomb sites, formerly designated in Patikul, Sulu.

In the criminal complaint, it noted that the explosive material used by the perpetrators in the bomb attack was ‘powerful’; however, when this expert witness was cross-examined by the defense counsel, she admitted a lack of expertise on the extent of destruction a bomb could cause, and on how ‘powerful’ a bomb could be.

Secondly, without prior knowledge of the court and of Tulawie’s legal counsel, it was revealed that Muhammad Sali Gani, one of the accused indicted by the prosecutors on August 22, 2013, had already been admitted under the WPP. In a letter dated November 21, 2013, to Gani, Atty. Martin Menez, WPP program director, informed him that his application for admission to the WPP “has been approved.”

Gani’s admission to the WPP gives rise to procedural questions of the prosecution panel in the admittance of witnesses. Prior to Gani’s admission to WPP, the private prosecutors also petitioned the court to defer the issuance of arrest orders for him, and to conduct a preliminary investigation on the charges against him. The court had previously rejected Gani’s appeal to defer the issuance of the arrest order, but the private prosecutors appealed the court’s ruling.

However, even before the court could rule on this with finality, the private prosecutors again filed another petition after having been informed that the WPP had approved Gani’s application to be admitted in the WPP. This time, they are asking the court for Gani to be to discharged, which means he should be relieved from being one of the accused. Under the law, the court could take judicial jurisdiction over an accused after she/he was arraigned. But Gani was neither arraigned, nor was he present in court during the trial.

Also, the claim of the private prosecutors’ that Gani’s testimony, if admitted as the state witness, “can be no doubt…one of absolute necessity,” has not been tested. To the best of our knowledge neither the AHRC nor Tulawie’s defense counsels, are aware of the details or content of Gani’s testimony; thus, giving rise to procedural questions and arbitrariness of his admission to the WPP.

The AHRC has covered the incident, the arrest and trial to-date of Tulawie and further information may be found at the links provided below.

PHILIPPINES: Arrest and detention of human rights defender Mr Temogen Tulawie
PHILIPPINES: An appeal to the Supreme Court on plot to kill an activist
PHILIPPINES: An appeal by the Free Cocoy Tulawie Movement
PHILIPPINES: Falsely charged Sulu activist appeals from prison
PHILIPPINES: Notes on the trial observation of falsely charged activist

We call on those interested in this case to attend as independent court observers when the trial resumes on February 12 & 13, March 6 & 7 and April 24 & 25, 2014.

For further information please visit the AHRC Website at: http://www.humanrights.asia/

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.