A LOCAL court has granted temporary liberty to 18 members of Magdalo group who have been charged with rebellion for seizing and taking over the Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati City in 2007.

In his 16-page order, Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 150 Judge Elmo Alameda allowed Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, former Scout Ranger regiment commander Brigadier General Danilo Lim, and the 16 junior officers to be released while their case for rebellion is being heard.

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Lim is a senatorial candidate of the Liberal Party (LP) in the coming May elections.

Navy Lieutenant Senior Grade James Layug and Marine Captain Gary Alejano are running for congressman of Taguig City and mayor of Sipalay City, respectively.

Other Magdalo members allowed to post bail are Eugene Gonzalez, Andy Torrato, Arturo Pascua Jr., Segundino Orfiano Jr., Billy Pascua, Clecarte Dahan, Juanito Jilbury, Emmanuel Tirador, German Linde, Julius Mesa, Cesari Yasser Gonzales, Manuel Cabochan, Jonnell Sangalang, and Armand Pontejos.

Thirteen civilians, including former vice president Teofisto Guingona, who were also arrested during the stand-off were eventually cleared by the court for their participation in the failed rebellion.

The court also set a P200,000 bail for each of the accused though defense counsel Ernesto Francisco Jr. said they will ask the court to lower the amount.

“We will file a motion for reduction of bail to P80, 000 since my clients could not afford the bail bond set by the court,” Francisco said.

But he said Trillanes may have to remain in detention as he is still facing coup d’ etat charges before another Makati court for the short-lived 2003 Oakwood mutiny.

Aside from the detained lawmaker, the 16 other soldiers involved in the Manila Peninsula Hotel siege are also facing the same coup d’ etat charges though they were allowed to post bail several years ago.

They, however, were not able to gain their liberty as they were also charged before the military court martial for violation of several Articles of War.

Only Trillanes’s request then was not granted.

“Trillanes might have a problem. All of them are facing coup d' etat charges at the sala of Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 148 Judge Oscar Pimentel,” lawyer Francisco said.

However, he was optimistic that they can use Alameda's ruling as a precedent to reopen the bail hearing at Pimentel’s sala.

In his ruling, Alameda said the prosecution failed to provide strong evidence to warrant the denial of Trillanes’s petition for bail filed in 2007.

“A thorough evaluation of the evidence presented during the entire bail hearing will readily show that the prosecution failed to demonstrate that the evidence of guilt of the accused for the crime of Rebellion is strong to foreclose their right to bail,” the order said.

“No direct, material and competent evidence was adduced to prove the specific acts committed by the accused constituting the crime of rebellion or any of the elements thereof. The walk-out from the court, the marching to the Manila Peninsula Hotel and the press conference held in the same hotel denouncing the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo are not sufficient to prove the non-bailable crime of Rebellion,” it further stated.

Alameda said the walkout in the middle of the hearing can only be considered a “contumacious conduct constitutive of direct contempt and not rebellion,” adding that the act of marching of the accused alone does not constitute the crime for which they are charged.

“It is no different from the numerous protest rally along the streets of Makati which is not an unusual occurrences,” he said, even adding that the presence of such personalities as Trillanes made the march peculiar.

More specifically, the court said the prosecution failed to demonstrate that the “accused were involved in public uprising or an armed public uprising by substantial number of rebels, that the accused took up arms against the government, that there was a vast movement of men and a complex net of intrigues and plots, there was civil war on a bigger or lesser scale and that the Chief Executive was deprived wholly or partially of her powers and prerogatives.”

“Apart from the fact that the prosecution was not able to establish convincingly all the elements of the offense of Rebellion, the 3rd Amended Information charging the accused with the crimes of Rebellion also failed to allege specifically the qualifying circumstance that the accused promoted, maintained or headed the rebellion,” the court added.

This failure, Alameda said may result to the case being bailable as provided for in Article 135 of the Revised Penal Code.

“It is basic that an accused can only be denied his right to bail when he is charged with an offense punishable by Reclusion Perpetua where the evidence of guilt is strong,” the ruling further explained.

The court also stressed that no material witnesses was presented to testify that “any of the accused was armed with a gun aside from the their military escorts and fired that same when they walked out of the courtroom, that any of the accused was armed and fired the same when they marched along the streets of Makati towards the Manila Peninsula Hotel and neither were they armed and fired when the PNP-Special Action Force and the Marines took action to force them out of the hotel.”

Alameda clarified that though an actual clash of arms with the government forces is not necessary to make one liable for rebellion, “nevertheless, it is necessary for the prosecution to at least prove that the accused have risen publicly and took up arms against the government.”

As to the firearms and ammunition recovered, the court said the prosecution witnesses also failed to positively identify any of the accused as the possessor or owner.

As to the footage by television GMA7 that the prosecution tried to present, Alameda declared it inadmissible since the later failed to present the person who actually took the footage.

Francisco said the judge's decision proves that the government's rebellion cases filed against his clients are weak.

He said the ruling did not actually come as a surprise because he was certain that the evidence presented by the prosecution in court is weak.

Reached for comment, Lim’s lawyer, Vicente Verdadero, said they will discuss the matter with the rest of the defense counsel as his client was also facing charges for his involvement in the 2006 failed coup attempt before the military court martial and the Armed Forces might still hold on to him.

All of the accused are currently detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) custodial center in Camp Crame, Quezon City. (AH/Sunnex)