Press Release
July 20, 2006


Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. (PDP-Laban) today said he does not think that Bishop Antonio Tobias of the diocese of Novaliches committed a criminal offense when he gave sanctuary to Army 1st Lt. Lawrence San Juan, along with six other rebel soldiers, after escaping from prison last January.

Even if Bishop Tobias gave temporary refuge to the Magdalo soldiers, he committed no crime. He was guilty only of Christian charity and that is no crime, he said.

Pimentel argued that since the rebellion case against San Juan and other Magdalo soldiers is still being heard before the courts, they are entitled to presumption of innocence.

Reacting to the statement of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales that Bishop Tobias may be charged with harboring fugitives, Pimentel said the Magdalo soldiers could not yet be considered criminals because they have not been CONVICTED by the courts.

The presumption of innocence stays until they are convicted, he said.

Pimentel said what distinguishes the bishops from ordinary citizens in this regard is that the Church has a historical tradition of providing sanctuary to those who are being persecuted or oppressed.

He said Bishop Tobias act has some parallelism to the act of Bishop Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, California in giving sanctuary to illegal immigrants from Latin American countries who are being hunted down by American immigration authorities for deportation.

But according to the minority leader, it will be an entirely different matter if a bishop or priest is actively involved in the plot to overthrow of the government.

Pimentel said it is the duty of law enforcers to track down and arrest fugitives from the law. But if they fail to find the fugitives, that is not the fault of the bishop who gave them sanctuary.

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