Judge inhibits in murder charges vs. Liza Maza, 3 ex-solons

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 3) — The judge handling the murder charges against Anti-Poverty Commissioner Liza Maza and three former congressmen inhibited from the case on Friday morning.

Judge Evelyn Turla of the Regional Trial Court Branch 40 in Palayan City, Nueva Ecija has inhibited due to pressure amid reports of the arrest order against the accused, according to the defendants' lawyer Rachelle Pastores.

Turla issued the unexpected arrest warrant for Maza, former Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael "Paeng" Mariano, and former Bayan Muna House Representatives Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casino last month.

The left-leaning former lawmakers maintain their innocence and filed a motion for reconsideration.

The case has been turned over to Judge Trese Wenceslao, who received the relevant documents on Thursday. He said he would come up with a resolution within the amount of time required by law.

The accused did not attend the 15-minute hearing, but their lawyers and Makabayan bloc congressmen were present. No new evidence was presented.

As it is, the arrest warrant against the four still stands. Pastores said that the call for them to surrender was unfair and unjust because they were innocent.

"Hindi natin kayang panghawakan kung ano ang magiging kilos ng (Philippine National Police)," said Pastores. "But ang panawagan nga natin sa kanila ay irespeto ang karapatan ng apat at sana hintayin natin ang resolution sa motion for reconsideration, yun lang po para hindi maging kumplikado ang sitwasyon."

[Translation: We don't control what the PNP will do. But we are appealing to them to respect the rights of the four, and wait for a motion of reconsideration, so as not to complicate the situation.]

Casino, Mariano, Maza, and Ocampo were accused of killing three supporters of rival partylist Akbayan — particularly Carlito Bayudang, Jimmy Peralta, and Danny Felipe — in 2006.

In 2008, then-presiding judge Turla said the conduct of preliminary investigation was not followed. Instead of dismissing the case, she asked to remand the charges to the City Prosecutor's Office.

The accused appealed to the Supreme Court, which said last year the remand was improper and Turla should decide if there was probable cause. She issued arrest warrants for the four last July, in a move that seemed to reverse her ruling in 2008.

Pastores maintains there is no clear evidence against her clients, saying witnesses in the case were previously discredited. She also pointed out that one of the murder charges had been dismissed at the Regional Trial Court in Guimba, Nueva Ecija ten years ago.

CNN Philippines correspondent Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.