UPLM slams  DOJ on Magdua’s conviction without trial

CAGAYAN DE ORO (MindaNews / 02 April) – A lawyers’ group in Mindanao slammed the Department of Justice (DOJ) for securing a conviction of a cashier of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines RMP) through plea bargaining. 

“A conviction based on plea bargain sans trial on the merits of the case is hardly any victory at all,” the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) said in a statement on Sunday.

Lawyer Beverly Selim-Musni, UPLM Secretary General, said the conviction of RMP cashier Angelie Z. Magdua through plea bargaining has put into jeopardy her 15 other co-accused for allegedly violating Republic Act 10168 or the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012.

“The fate of the 15 other co-accused are in limbo because Magdua admitted guilt to terror financing filed against them by the government,” Musni said.

All 15 of Magdua’s co-accused had pleaded not guilty to violating Republic Act 10168, also known as the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012. 

The DOJ indicted Magdua and 15 others including nuns of the RMP, on alleged terrorist financing or making funds available to the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army — a non-bailable case.

The DOJ hailed what it referred to a “landmark decision.” For the UPLM, the claimed victory “reeks of hollowness and worse, desperation.”

On March 16, the Public’s Attorney’s Office presented Magdua to the Regional Trial Court Branch 1 in Iligan City for arraignment and proposed a plea bargain of the charges filed against her.

Musni said an accessory to the crime of terror financing carries a penalty of two degrees lower that the principal offender. Her 15 co-accused have maintained they are innocent. 

In a statement, UPLM said the court granted the plea bargain, declared her guilty on 55 counts of being an accessory to financing terrorism. The court also imposed an even lesser penalty for Magdua’s alleged voluntarily surrender to the authorities on December 4, 2022.

In a statement last Wednesday, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) Legal Cooperation Cluster hailed the conviction of Magdua as a “victory of justice.”

“Justice has prevailed once again. A member of a supposed religious group posing as ‘human rights defenders’ was convicted in a landmark case for supporting and financing communist terrorism,” the NTF-ELCAC LCC said.

The UPLM noted that while the DOJ claimed victory for Magdua’s conviction, it was “eerily silent over the fact that it was on a plea bargain that, in effect, conveniently bypassed trial of these cases where the testimony of Magdua and the state’s other  witnesses would have been subject to judicial scrutiny of the Court.”

It said Magdua has “apparently been lured by the State into a web of deception and false promises.” (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)