Last 10 Aquino convicts released

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — PRESIDENT Macapagal-Arroyo granted executive clemency to the last 10 soldiers still in prison for the assassination of former senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. and Rolando Galman, who was gunned down after allegedly fatally shooting the popular opposition leader.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita yesterday confirmed the President signed the order for the release of the convicts late last week which was forwarded to the Department of Justice on March 2.

The convicts were released yesterday from the National Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa after Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez signed their release papers.

Freed were former Capt. Romeo Bautista, 2nd Lt Jesus Castro, Sgt. Claro Lat, Sgt. Ruben Aquino, Sgt. Arnulfo De Mesa, Sgt. Filomeno Miranda, Sgt. Ernesto Mateo, Sgt. Rodolfo Desulong, Sgt. Arnulfo Artates and the supposed gunman Constable Rogelio Moreno.

The convicts were freed for humanitarian reasons, Ermita said.

He said the Department of Health and various doctors have certified the inmates are suffering from hypertension, diabetes, dangerous abnormalities in cholesterol level, anemia and cardiovascular diseases.

Ermita said records also showed the convicts have served 34 years of their double life sentences (40 years imprisonment) and were thus eligible for parole.

He said there were also many organizations from both the religious and civic sectors that made representations for the release of the convicts. “They feel people have suffered enough and this (release) was justified,” he said.

Last month, two other convicts for the murder of Aquino — Sgts. Felizardo Taran and Rolando de Guzman — were released from prison after serving their term. Sgt. Pablo Martinez was the first to be released when the President pardoned him in December 2007 when he reached the age of 70. Two other prisoners — Cordova Estelo and Mario Lazaga — died in prison.

It is within the prerogative of the President to grant pardon or executive clemency to prisoners, Malacañang stressed.

Public Attorneys Office chief Persida Rueda-Acosta had worked for the commutation of sentence of the soldiers linked to the murders of Aquino and Galman.

Acosta said the convicts had stayed in prison long enough and also deserved to be freed for good conduct.

She expressed readiness to reopen the double murder case to once and for all determine who was behind the killing of Aquino and Galman. But it would depend on the prosecution and if there is new evidence or if Capt. Felipe Valerio, who escaped to the United States, can be brought back home to give his testimony, she said.

Acosta believes Capt. Valerio has vital information that can unmask the mastermind of the infamous crime.