Manila, April 4, 2003 -- The Department of Justice yesterday asked the Quezon City regional trial court to raffle the Kuratong Baleleng case instead of assigning it to Judge Theresa dela Torre Yadao.

The case names Sen. Panfilo Lacson and 37 others as accused in the murder of 11 members of the Kuratong Baleleng criminal gang in Quezon City in May 1995.

In a three-page motion submitted to Quezon City Executive Judge Jose C. Mendoza, chief state prosecutor Jovencito Zuņo recalled that when the DOJ re-filed the case on June 6, 2001 it was assigned to Yadao instead of being raffled off among the judges.

Zuņo said the assignment of the case to Yadao violated Supreme Court Circular No. 7 issued on Sept. 23, 1974, which provides that all cases filed with a court should be distributed by raffle.

The prosecution did not explain why it wanted Yadao out of Lacson's case but sources said Yadao's appointment to the Quezon City court was endorsed to President Joseph Estrada by his brother-in-law, Raul de Guzman, and former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile.

Yadao has earned a reputation of not bowing to pressure even from the highest officials of the land.

In June 2002, President Arroyo reportedly approved a recommendation to grant bail to the six suspects in the killing of two sons of former Occidental Mindoro Rep. Ricardo Quintos.

The recommendation, which was endorsed by Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, was initiated by the justice department and also carried the signatures of Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes and Interior Secretary Jose D. Lina.

Yadao refused to release the suspects on bail, saying the law does not allow it.

Zuņo said the re-filed case, which was based on the affidavits of new witnesses, names Lacson as a principal instead of as an accessory as alleged in the original case that was provisionally dismissed by Judge Wenceslao Agnir on March 29, 1999.

"After the dismissal of the old case, we filed new information based on the statements of new witnesses. So we have a new docket number, so this should be raffled," Zuņo said.

The Supreme Court, voting 10-4-1 last Tuesday, ordered the re-opening of the multiple murder case.

The decision reversed the Supreme Court's ruling last year that remanded the case to the Quezon City court for determination on whether the provisional dismissal should be made permanent.

Zuņo said prosecutors were reviewing all the affidavits of some of the previous witnesses who have recanted their testimonies to determine if they could still be tapped to help prosecute the suspects.

Among others, he cited tabloid reporter Armando Capili and Jane Gomez, niece of Kuratong leader Wilson Soronda.

Zuņo said the prosecution has more than 10 new witnesses to support the allegation that the 11 Kuratong Baleleng members were not killed in a shootout but were summarily executed on Commonwealth avenue, Quezon City.

In Ilagan, Isabela, Lacson yesterday said he still believes in the criminal justice system and that, in the end, the law will prevail.

"I still believe in our criminal justice system that is why I am filing a motion for reconsideration hoping na maliwanagan talaga iyong isipan ng mga SC justices, especially the five justices who were among those who voted 13-0 in favor of us," he told reporters after delivering a speech during the 35th commencement exercises of the Isabela State University.

"Nagugulat din ako sa sarili ko dahil wala akong kaba na nararamdaman sa ngayon. Nang mabasa ko kasi ang decision, I was convinced that the ruling was not in line with the principles of the law so lumakas ang loob ko," Lacson said.

Lacson explained that contrary to what Zuņo said in the event the case is reopened in the Quezon City court, he and co-accused Generals Jewel Canson, Romeo Acop and Francisco Zubia would be charged as accessories and would be eligible to post bail.

He pointed out that the DOJ was trying to make it appear that this is an entirely new case.

"Ang pagkakamali naman nila, kung panibagong kaso ito, bakit ang ginamit nilang ebidensiya pareho ang plate number, pareho ang mga biktima at pareho ang mga suspects?" Lacson said. "Paano naging panibagong kaso iyan?"

"Kaya nga nag-rule ang SC na parehong kaso ito. Maski sa Court of Appeals ganoon din ang desisyon nila na parehong kaso iyon. Instead of filing a new information, it should be a revival of an old case," Lacson said. (By CHELOY GARAFIL, Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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