Five left-wing lawmakers who took refuge in Congress for two months while facing coup accusations yesterday walked out of the building in triumph after a court dismissed the charges.
Hundreds of followers cheered the five lawmakers, who wore white and raised clenched fists as they emerged from the House of Representatives, ending a two-month standoff with the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
A court dismissed rebellion charges against them last Thursday, but Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales at first insisted they still faced arrest because the case was dismissed on a technicality and could be revived.
On Sunday, he backed off and said police could not arrest the lawmakers unless the case is formally reopened on appeal.
They had sought refuge in the building on Feb. 27 to avoid being arrested by police on charges that they conspired with more than 40 other people in a failed plot to overthrow Arroyo.
Under the scorching sun and amid fluttering red flags of his Bayan Muna party, Representative Satur Ocampo clambered on top of a jeep and declared victory.
"This is the triumph of a militant and just stand for people's rights which could never be trampled," Ocampo said.
Another legislator, Representative Teodoro Casino, was embraced by his wife, son and siblings.
"It was not the physical hardship because Congress is not really a prison," Casino said by telephone. "It's being vindicated, it's winning this struggle. That's the best feeling."
The legislators boarded a long convoy of cars and passenger jeeps carrying loved ones and other political activists en route to a nearby university to celebrate over lunch.
But the legislators' legal trouble may not be over. Gonzales said government prosecutors were preparing to either appeal the rebellion charges dismissed by the Makati Regional Trial Court on a technicality or file new rebellion charges against the legislators.
Lawyer Romeo Capulong, who represents the lawmakers, said they would fight back with criminal and administrative charges against Gonzales, national police chief Arturo Lomibao and a number of prosecutors for allegedly fabricating evidence against them and threatening them with illegal arrests.
During their stay in the House, the five lawmakers turned a conference room in the building into their sleeping quarters, using sleeping bags on the cold floor. They stayed in their offices during the day to do legislative work and be with their families. Two celebrated their birthdays while confined in the House.
Arroyo, who faced widespread calls that she step down over vote-rigging and corruption allegations, declared a week-long state of emergency in February to quash the alleged coup.
Police carried out a string of arrests without warrants and attempted to take into custody the five legislators, who protested the government action then sought refuge in Congress, which took them under protective custody.
Arroyo has suffered a series of legal setbacks in her effort to crack down on opponents. The latest came last week when the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional portions of her emergency declaration in February.