Wed, Apr 04, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Philippine high court orders release of lawmaker


The Philippine Supreme Court ordered police yesterday to release a prominent left-wing lawmaker who was detained last month on murder charges stemming from an alleged communist rebel purge 22 years ago.

The court said it will continue to review Representative Satur Ocampo's petition to dismiss the charges against him, but that he could leave jail after posting bail of 100,000 pesos (US$2,085), Supreme Court spokesman Midas Marquez said.

"At least the Supreme Court sustained its finding that the government erred in the preparation of the charges of multiple murder and that I am entitled to provisional liberty," Ocampo said.

He has maintained the charges are politically motivated as part of a crackdown on left-wing activists ahead of May congressional elections.

Ocampo walked out of the Manila jail, his wife Carolina at his side, after his lawyers posted bail. Women offered flowers and kissed him on the cheeks.

Outside the police headquarters, scores of supporters of his Bayan Muna party held a rally denouncing the government for jailing their party leader.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, said the government enforces the law "but always bows to the high court."

The government accused Ocampo and about 50 other left-wing activists and alleged members of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines of instigating the killing of at least 15 suspected government spies in the town of Hilongos in central Leyte province in 1985.

Ocampo, a former communist leader who led peace talks with the government in 1986-87, said he was being held in a military detention camp under dictator Ferdinand Marcos when the alleged killings occurred.

During a hearing on his petition on Friday, some Supreme Court justices castigated the government for a "defective" case, and for not giving Ocampo a chance to respond to the prosecutor's decision to file the charges.

Justice Angelina Sandoval Gutierrez also noted the "highly surprising" move to file the charges against Ocampo during the election period. She said it was unnatural for relatives and other witnesses to come out in search of the alleged purge victims more than 20 years after they went missing.

Ocampo is the second left-wing lawmaker in police custody. Representative Crispin Beltran was arrested on rebellion charges over an alleged plot to topple President Arroyo more than a year ago.

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