Tagaytay 5 freed; rebellion case ‘nonexistent’

Free at Last. The so-called Tagaytay 5 -- Aris Sarmiento, Axel Pinpin, Riel Custodio, Michael Masayes and Rico Ybañez -- shown here inside their prison cell during their incarceration, were freed August 28, 2008. “The dismissal of trumped-up charges and release of Tagaytay 5 is a victory for human rights,” said Ruth Cervantes, Karapatan's public information officer.

By Niña Catherine Calleja
Philippine Daily Inquirer

CAMP VICENTE LIM, LAGUNA—Five men accused of being communist guerrillas were released Thursday afternoon after the Tagaytay Regional Trial Court (RTC) dismissed the rebellion case filed against them by the police.

Released were Axel Pinpin, Aristides Sarmiento, Rico Ybañez, Michael Masayes and Riel Custodio.

Pinpin, a poet, said he and his fellow detainees were ecstatic and yet doubtful when they heard the news.

“We almost couldn’t believe it,” Pinpin said while packing his more than 100 books that fellow writers had given him in a 20-square-meter custodial jail.

The cell, according to the Commission on Human Rights, did not pass the United Nations’ minimum standard for treatment of prisoners.

The five men were excited to leave the detention cell with walls plastered with photos, news items about them, and posters calling for their release.

“We can now walk with freedom,” said Sarmiento, who was still clad in an orange shirt with the slogan “Free Political Prisoners” printed on it.

Ybañez, who will turn 61 on Sept. 5, said his freedom was the best gift he had received.

The men, known as the “Tagaytay 5,” were abducted while riding in a car by Cavite police and Naval Intelligence and Security Forces operatives on April 28, 2006.

Pinpin, Sarmiento and Custodio claimed they were members of the farmers’ group Katipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-Ka, or Farmers’ Federation in Cavite) while Masayes and Ybañez were hired drivers.

They were held in the Calabarzon Regional Police Office (CRPO) headquarters for two years and four months.

Nonexistent crime

The CRPO Thursday received a copy of the ruling of Tagaytay RTC Branch No. 18, which was issued by Judge Edwin Larida on Aug. 20, according to Chief Supt. Ricardo Padilla, CRPO director. The ruling mentioned the prosecution’s “erroneous manifestations.”

“Faced with an information charging a manifestly nonexistent crime, the duty of the trial court is to throw it out. Or at the very least, and where possible, make it conform to the law,” Larida said.

The judge ordered the men’s immediate release.

Triumph of justice

Carlo Ybañez, the lawyer of the accused, joined by lawyers Frank Chavez and Jose Manuel Diokno, described the court decision as a “triumph of justice.”

“The decision favoring the Tagaytay 5 is proof that justice still exists in this country,” Ybañez said.

Ybañez said the trial took a while, the process sped up after he filed a writ of amparo.

A writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity.

The arraignment of the Tagaytay 5 was postponed by the RTC six times. During the arraignment on June 16, the five pleaded “not guilty” to the rebellion charges.

Charges for illegal detention

Ybañez said Chavez told the court that there was no crime and the prosecution could not prove rebellion by citing subversion.

“The police who abducted and detained them are liable,” Ybañez said, emphasizing that the men’s lawyers were planning to file charges against the police in connection with the illegal arrest and detention, torture and planting of evidence.

The Tagaytay 5 said more than 30 armed plainclothesmen abducted them while traveling along Ligaya Drive in Barangay (village) Sungay in Tagaytay City on April 28, 2006.

After less than a week, the five were charged with rebellion and presented to the media as members of the communist New People’s Army.

In July, CHR Chair Leila de Lima recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges in the Office of the Ombudsman against the Cavite police and the Naval Intelligence and Security Forces for human rights violations.


Sarmiento said that while he was happy that he was now free, he also felt fear. “Fear of what will happen to us outside and what police can still do,” he said.

What happened to them within two years was unimaginable, Pinpin said. “I write poems but I couldn’t describe our experience in the span of two years,” he said.

Pinpin, research and information officer of Kamagsasaka-Ka, said he would be going back to the peasant movement. “The government had taken away so many things from us,” he said.

Punish the police

After the arrest, Pinpin said, the group’s trading operations involving muscovado sugar and coffee were affected.

Sarmiento said the police who arrested and detained him and the others should be punished. “It is so easy for them to arrest someone but it’s hard for them to free innocent people,” he said.

Sought for reaction, Padilla said: “We are filing a motion for reconsideration. Then we will let the court decide.”

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