RHRC Facilitates Release of 94 Zamboanga Siege Detainees
Monday, July 30, 2018
ZAMBOANGA OTY - The Regional Human Rights Commission (RHRC), under its mandate to provide legal assistance to residents of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), has facilitated the return of 94 "Zamboanga Siege" detainees to their respective communities. The detainees were released by virtue of an order by the Pasig City Court hearing the case. The release, according to the RHRC, is the biggest release of political prisoners in the Philippines in over three decades.
Previously on March 2015, 42 of the detainees were released after the Department of Justice junked the rebellion and IHL violations charges for lack of probable cause. Later, scores of other detainees were individually ordered released due to minority. On April 10, 2018, a breakthrough was reached as the court approved the Plea-Bargaining Agreement allowing the 98 accused to plead guilty to the lower offenses of Sedition.
After pleading guilty to lesser offenses, 97 detainees in what is also formally known as "People of the Philippines v Nur Misuari, et al" were finally freed last May 28, 2018 after an almost five-year detention in one of the country's top maximum security prisons. Of the 97 returnees released, all but three opted to be accompanied by the RHRC as the former intended to stay with their relatives in Manila or elsewhere. Of the 94 assisted by the RHRC, 46 returned to Basilan, 32 to Sulu, 10 to Zamboanga City, 4 to Zamboanga Sibugay, and 2 to Zamboanga del Norte. The RHRC team, composed of a lawyer, human rights investigators, administrative support personnel and a volunteer nurse, provided protective accompaniment for the returnees from the detention facility to Villamor Airbase, and then to their respective provincial domiciles, ensuring that the return shall be safe, humane, and orderly.
The 97 returnees were among the at least 280 individuals who were arrested and charged for rebellion and violations of RA 9851, or the "Philippine Act on Crimes against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity" before the Regional Trial Court Branch 158 in Pasig City for their alleged roles in the September 2013 armed conflict in Zamboanga City. The RHRC has actively rendered legal representation to detainees, leading to the release of a number of them.
The release due to its number was allowed by the court to be facilitated and spearheaded by the RHRC given the human rights mandate of the agency. Although the RHRC was only counsel to 2 out of the 97 released, the RHRC, pursuant to its mandate and with due consideration to the precarious circumstances with Mindanao under Martial Law, deemed it necessary to provide appropriate legal and preventive measures to assure that human rights and constitutional guarantees are observed and protected in the discharge of the returnees.
To date, there are still more than a hundred more left in the MMDJ-Annex needing legal assistance and representation.