SUPREME COURT REVIVES MURDER CASE VS. PING

Manila, April 2, 2003 -- The Supreme Court yesterday ordered the re-filing 
of the Kuratong Baleleng multiple murder case against Sen. Panfilo Lacson 
and 37 others at the Quezon City regional trial court.

The high court's decision followed Lacson's declaration last Saturday that 
he will run for president in 2004.

The 29-page decision was penned by Associate Justice Romeo Callejo, an 
appointee of President Arroyo, who inhibited himself from hearing the same 
case when he was still an associate justice at the Court of Appeals.

Voting 10-4-1 in favor of re-filing the case, the high court overturned its 
earlier 13-0 ruling remanding the case to the Quezon City RTC to determine 
the validity of the provisional dismissal of the case by then Judge 
Wenceslao Agnir Jr.

Those who voted to grant the government's motion for reconsideration to 
pave the way for the continuation with the criminal case against Lacson and 
his co-accused were Associate Justices Josue Bellosillo, Vicente Mendoza, 
Artemio Panganiban, Leonardo Quisumbing, Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, 
Renato Corona, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Adolfo Azcuna, Callejo and Chief 
Justice Hilario Davide Jr.

Those who dissented were Associate Justices Reynato Puno, Jose Vitug, 
Consuelo Ynares-Santiago and Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez.

Associate Justice Antonio Carpio inhibited himself from hearing the case 
because of his connection with the case when he was still with the Carpio 
Villaraza law firm.

Of the 13 who had voted to remand the case to the QC court, Bellosillo, 
Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, and Davide changed their stand. Justice 
Santiago Kapunan and Sabino de Leon had since then retired. The others 
became members of the court after the first decision.

Explaining its turnaround, the SC said there is no more need to remand the 
case to the Quezon City court because the records will show that the 
provisional dismissal was not valid.

The high court said Lacson and his co-accused failed to prove they complied 
with the two essential requisites for a valid provisional dismissal of the 
case.

The validity of Agnir's ruling is important because it will determine if 
the two-year prescriptive period to revive a case should apply to the 
murder charges against Lacson and his co-accused.

Section 8 of Rule 117 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure provides 
that a case cannot be provisionally dismissed except with the express 
consent of the accused and with notice to the offended party.

The high court refuted the claim of the accused that the provisional 
dismissal was with their consent and with notice to the offended party.

"In this case, the respondent failed to prove that the first and second 
requisites of the first paragraph of the new rule were present when Judge 
Agnir dismissed the case....The respondent merely filed a motion for 
judicial determination of probable cause and for examination of prosecution 
witnesses....," the SC said.

"The respondent did not pray for the dismissal, provisional or otherwise of 
(his cases). Neither did he ever agree impliedly or expressly to a mere 
provisional dismissal of the cases," the high court said.

The SC agreed with the prosecution's claim that no notice of any motion for 
provisional dismissal or of the hearing was served on the heirs of the 
victims at least three days before the hearing as mandated by court rules.

The Supreme Court on May 28, 2002 remanded the Kuratong Baleleng case, in 
which Lacson is one of 38 accused of killing 11 members of the 
kidnap-for-ransom group, to the Quezon City court to determine if the 
dismissal of the case was within court rules.

The government filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that the case 
should be reopened because of new evidence gathered against the defendants.

The case was initially filed with the Sandiganbayan, which dismissed it for 
lack of jurisdiction.

When it was refiled with the QC court, the case was dismissed by Judge 
Agnir in 1999 when some of the witnesses recanted their testimonies.

When Hernando Perez became justice secretary in 2001, he reopened the case 
by conducting a preliminary investigation.

The Manila regional Trial court denied Lacson's motion to stop Perez from 
reopening the case.

Lacson went up to the Court of Appeals, and was granted a temporary 
restraining order against the preliminary investigation.

The case was then elevated to the SC.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye denied that the Supreme Court decision 
was politically motivated.

He said "if you ask GMA (President Arroyo) about that, she'd tell you 
'hypothetical iyan, hypothetical iyan'."

"The Supreme Court is the final arbiter when it comes to the written law. 
The Supreme Court is an independent body. Its decision carries the weight 
of the law," Bunye said. (By CHELOY V. GARAFIL and JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR, Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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