SOLICITOR General Jose Calida yesterday told the Supreme Court that the arrest and detention of former New People’s Army commander Rodolfo Salas, alias “Kumander Bilog,” on multiple murder charges has legal basis.
Calida made the statement during oral arguments at the SC’s Third Division which is handling a habeas corpus petition filed by Salas’ son, Jody.
Calida said Salas’ arrest in his house in Angeles city, Pampanga on February 25 was conducted based on an arrest warrant issued by Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina of the Manila regional trial court Branch 32.
Salas was charged with 15 counts of murder for the killing in 1985 of NPA members in Inopacan, Leyte on suspicion they are deep penetration agents of the military.
Mass graves containing the remains of the victims of the purge were discovered in August 2006.
Authorities said the 72-year-old Salas authorized the killings because he was the NPA commander at that time.
“His arrest and detention is by virtue of a lawful public authority having been based on an arrest warrant issued by the Manila regional trial court,” Calida told the magistrates.
“Your Honors, given that Mr. Rodolfo Salas is confined under a lawful order, the proper remedy is not a writ of habeas corpus but to pursue the orderly course of criminal proceedings and exhaust the usual remedies,” he added.
Calida said Salas’ camp should have filed a motion to quash before the Manila RTC that is handling the case instead of going directly to the SC especially since there is nothing illegal in his arrest and subsequent detention at the Manila City Jail.
“There is also nothing stopping him or his camp from asking the court to conduct a reinvestigation,” Calida said, adding that this can be done since he has yet to be arraigned in the case.
The Manila court has set Salas’ arraignment on March 17.
Calida dismissed the claim of Salas’ son that his father’s right against double jeopardy is put at risk with the filing of the case because since it was already absorbed by his conviction for rebellion in 1991.
The younger Salas argued that his father’s conviction on rebellion charges was anchored on a plea bargaining agreement in which he was shielded from future prosecution for all common crimes committed in furtherance of rebellion.
Salas was sentenced to six years imprisonment but he was released in 1992 since he had been in detention from the time of his arrest in 1986.
But Calida explained that the 15 counts of murder were not included in the rebellion charges.
“The decision convicting Mr. Salas of rebellion did not state that it included the 15 counts of murder. Neither did he present proof that the present charges were part of the rebellion case he was previously convicted of,” Calida said.
He added that the mass graves were only discovered in 2006 while Salas was convicted of rebellion in 1991.
“Therefore, the present murder charges cannot be automatically considered to have been absorbed into the crime of rebellion,” Calida said.
With this and for violating the doctrine of the hierarchy of courts by going directly to the SC, Calida said the petition must be dismissed.
Lawyer Arno Sanidad of the Free Legal Assistance Group which helped Salas’ son in filing the petition, stuck to his arguments as he invoked the Hernandez-Enrile political offense doctrine which stated that crimes committed in furtherance of rebellion are already absorbed by the rebellion charge as in the case of the former rebel commander.
“The offenses were allegedly committed in 1985 but discovered in 2006. What if crimes were discovered in 1984 or 1985 and not included in the information and a separate charge is filed? Isn’t that double jeopardy? Sanidad said.
He also said they are not asking the SC to nullify the entire proceedings in the regional trial court but only as to Salas because of “sue generis” or unique position that he had a previous conviction for rebellion that absorbed the instant case.
He also defended their decision to go directly to the SC, adding a petition for habeas corpus may be elevated to the High Court when there are violations of one’s constitutional rights as in the case of Salas’ arrest and detention.
Pressed by Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo if there was no mention in the information and plea-bargaining agreement in the rebellion case of the murders in Inopacan, Sanidad explained that as long as offenses are committed in furtherance of rebellion from the 1970s until his arrest in 1986, these are covered in the rebellion conviction.