Philippines high court fails to review case of ‘Abadilla 5’

Jun. 07, 2007

UA-182-2007: PHILIPPINES: Supreme Court fails to review death
sentences of five torture victims seven years on

PHILIPPINES: Torture; falsification of police records; denial of the
right to have a fair trial; excessive court delays; denial of
detainees rights to adequate medical attention; lack of domestic
judicial remedy

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) writes with deep concern
regarding the continued failure of the Supreme Court (SC) to review
the case of five men, known as the “Abadilla 5”, who were sentenced
to death by a local court eight years ago. The five men were
sentenced for the murder of an influential police colonel, Rolando
Abadilla, but have since protested their innocence of the charges
against them. The court convicted them without giving them
opportunity to submit further evidence that could have proved their
innocence. An open admission by a rebel group claiming responsibility
for the murder exonerating the five men was also not given due
consideration in the trial. The Philippines has abolished capital
punishment; therefore these five men might spend the remainder of
their lives in prison should the Supreme Court uphold their


On August 1999, the accused Lenido Lumanog, Augusto Santos, Senior
Police Officer 2 (SPO2) Cesar Fortuna, Rameses de Jesus and Joel de
Jesus, were sentenced to death by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in
Quezon City for the murder of an influential police colonel, Rolado
Abadilla. Abadilla was the chief of the now defunct Philippine
Constabulary (PC) in Metro Command (Metrocom) during the Marcos
regime. There were seven persons accused of Abadilla’s murder but the
court acquitted two of them. RTC Judge Jaime Salazar Jr. convicted the
five men based on the testimony of a witness testimony who claimed to
have identified them as the gunmen that killed Abadilla on 13 June
1996 along Katipunan Avenue, in Quezon City.

The court’s decision convicting them has since been repeatedly
challenged by the accused and their legal counsels. However, the
court denied the accused’ motion to reconsider its decision and to
conduct a new trial in order to allow them to present evidence that
could proved their innocence. The evidence would also prove that it
was a rebel group, the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB), who were
responsible for Abadilla’s murder. In February 2000, the case was
transferred to the Supreme Court for mandatory review as required by
the rules of criminal procedure involving death sentences.
Regrettably, for the five years that the case had been pending before
them for review it has failed to carry out its responsibilities.

Even though it has yet to conclude the mandatory review of the case,
the Supreme Court in January 2005 transferred it to its subordinate
court, the Court of Appeals (CA), for it to conduct the review. The
case is presently under review at the CA’s 15th Division under
Justice Marlene Gonzalez-Sison. The Supreme Court ruled that the
appeals court had been given an authority based on its 7 July 2004
ruling involving another case entitled “The People of the Philippines
vs. Efren Mateo y Garcia” or the Mateo ruling. The new ruling gives
authority to the appeals court to conduct an intermediate review of
cases involving death sentences. Once again, the case has been
pending before the appeals court for two years but has not

There were also serious concerns regarding the undue transfer of the
case to the appeals court from the Supreme Court. The accused’ legal
counsels argued that the appeals court would have to begin from the
start and get familiar with the case. It would eventually result in
further delays of the review and undue suffering by the accused in
jail as has happened in the past. Despite the repeated motions by the
legal counsels for the Supreme Court to defer the transfer, the latter
rejected their petitions and proceeded. Had the Supreme Court
concluded the review promptly they could have done it but they have
refused to do so.

Not only are there concerns of undue transfer and delays of the
concluding review, there is also unequal treatment of cases involving
capital punishment. While the motions of the five accused before the
Supreme Court asking them not to transfer their case to the appeals
court and for them to give early decision on the case subject for
their review had been denied, in another case the situation was
otherwise. In a case of “People vs. Francisco Larranaga, et al.”
which was resolved on 21 September 2004 and 11 January 2005, the
Supreme Court denied the accused’ motion to refer their case to the
appeals court even though the Mateo ruling was already in effect.
This Supreme Court’s ruling implied that it had the authority to
decide full jurisdiction on cases subject to their review even
without making transfers to the appeals court.

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