Philippine pastor released, exonerated

Philippine pastor released, exonerated

Guerrero (r.) is shown with the Rev. James Vijayakumar, the UCC's area executive for Southern Asia.
Detained United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) pastor Berlin Guerrero was ordered released to the custody of his lawyers Sept. 12, 2008, by the Philippine Court of Appeals. At the time of his release, Guerrero had been detained for one year, three months and 15 days.

Guerrero was abducted May 27, 2007, by elements of the Naval Intelligence Security Forces. He was allegedly tortured before being turned over to the Philippine National Police. Only then was he shown a copy of a warrant of arrest for murder charges.

The Court of Appeals began hearing petitions filed by Guerrero's lawyers, former Sen. Jovito Salonga and Emilio Capulong, after the case was remanded to the appellate court by the Supreme Court.

Court of Appeals Associate Justice, Martin Villarama, granted a temporary restraining order barring a regional court from proceeding with the hearings on the murder case and directed government lawyers to submit more evidence to justify the trial of Guerrero.

On Sept. 23, the appellate court dismissed all charges against Guerrero, saying an improper investigation had been conducted. Along with the illegal seizure, detention and abuse, the court charged regional authorities with undue process, having not given Guerrero sufficient time to prepare a defense against charges.

Guerrero's arrest stemmed from allegations that he participated in a murder in 1992. Court documents pointed out that Guerrero had been living a normal and public life, and carrying out his pastoral duties, when the case was revived after 15 years.

"The Court cannot condone such injustice and travesty of rights of an ordinary citizen charged with a serious crime during and after preliminary investigation when the information based on an invalid proceeding had been filed in court. The patent disregard of the laws and rules in the conduct of preliminary investigation by the investigating Judge clearly constitutes grave abuse of discretion that warrants the exercise of this Court's corrective power," it said its Sept. 23 ruling.

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines is a close international ecumenical partner with the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.) Wider Church Ministries works closely with the UCCP via a Global Ministries partnership. 

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Gregg Brekke
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brekkeg@ucc.org