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Special Treatment: A Bonus for Impunity

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The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) strongly criticizes the special treatment of former Gov. Antonio Leviste and other influential affluent inmates in the National Bilibid Prison. It not only adds insult to injury to the victims of these privileged inmates, but also, as perceived by those sensitive to justice, a mockery of our justice system. PAHRA Chairperson, Max de Mesa said, “Such special treatments are nothing more than a bonus to impunity and encourages its further perpetration and perpetuation.”

The “open secret” of special treatment of select inmates officially made public now by DOJ Usec. Francisco Baraan, III, should be determinedly and thoroughly investigated with due diligence so that the perpetrators and their accessories are meted out corresponding punishment and/or disciplinary actions towards totally expurgating these corruptive practices.

De Mesa stressed that: “Another “open secret” that should be officially exposed is the special treatment accorded to some military personnel out of “camaraderie”.” A long-standing example is the PICOP 6 case and convicted Army Cpl. Rodrigo Billones of the 62nd Infantry Battalion.

Six workers of the Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP) were forcibly disappeared in October 14, 2000 with strong evidences of the involvement of 12 members of the 62nd Infantry Battalion assigned in Agusan del Sur.

In July 11, 2008, Executive Judge Dante Luz N. Viacrucis in a landmark decision convicted Corporal Billones not as a principal but as an accomplice to the kidnapping and serious illegal detention of the six PICOP workers. For each of the six victims, the court sentenced Corporal Billones to the indeterminate penalty of 9-15 years of imprisonment. The court also sought the indemnification of the heirs of each of the six victims with the sum of P50, 000 as life indemnity and P50, 000 as moral damages. Meanwhile, the period Corporal Billones spent under preventive detention since 28 June 2001 shall be credited to the service of his sentence.

Despite the seriousness of the crime for which Billones was convicted and the significant prison term he was given — lives with his wife and two children in a house outside of the fence surrounding the Agusan del Sur provincial jail, though within the prison compound.

The warden, reported to be a military reservist, is said to have granted this privilege to Billones out of “camaraderie”.

De Mesa stated that “This special treatment has been confirmed by CHR Region 13, FIND and even by an international human rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch (HRW).”

“This was even brought to the attention of the Human Rights Office of the AFP,” de Mesa added.

The families of the PICOP 6 victims has demanded the transfer of Billones to a regular prison. The DOJ has already been informed of the situation. Chairperson de Mesa concluded: “In the Billones special treatment case, the AFP has the opportunity to help correct the anomalous arrangement and to make true their policy of ensuring the primacy of human rights in its institution.”