TWO years ago, the Court of Appeals set free a female drug suspect who languished in jail for more than five years without a case filed against her because some people in the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Philippine Na-tional Police (PNP) forgot about her.
Somebody must have faced at least an administrative charge for neglect of duty, and the detainee must have been compensated for what the CA described as “unreasonable …intolerable …shockingly unimaginable” delay in bringing her to the court of justice.
But two years had passed and nothing of that sort has happened. Is it a case of a forgotten case now forgotten forever?
How many more similar cases exist? We don’t know because we never knew if the DOJ complied with the CA or-der to investigate the causes of delay in Joanne Urbina’s case, or if it had inventoried the cases of detainees who have been in jail without any information filed, or have spent time in jail even way beyond the prison terms pro-vided by law for crimes they have been charged with.
The drug suspect in the CA case, Joanne Urbina, decided not to pursue her right to compensation because she said she just wanted to work and provide for her family. She was the breadwinner and two of her younger siblings stopped going to school after she was put in jail for allegedly possessing illegal drugs. She claimed the sachets of what police said contained shabu were planted in the apartment in Quezon City where she was taken from in De-cember 2007.
This is not to say that Urbina is not guilty—unless her claim is false that the drugs were planted on her. But nothing, absolutely nothing, justified her incarceration for more than five years without any charge filed against her. And nobody was held accountable for the lapse.
The CA granted Urbina’s petition for habeas corpus after finding out that the information against her was filed only on May 9, 2013 or five long years after her arrest. The Court of Appeals said the five-year delay had “materially in-jured or endangered petitioner’s right to procedural due process.”
Urbina’s existence at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame was noticed only in March 2013 when her then newly-hired lawyer, Siddharta Penaredondo 3rd, requested the DoJ for records of the case but was told that it was still under review. An earlier search for a copy of an information at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court yielded negative, prompting the filing of the habeas corpus petition and her eventual release from prison.
Urbina stayed in jail that long without any case because she said she did not know that she had a right to inquire why she has not been called to attend a hearing while all her other co-detainees had their own scheduled court attendance. She thought it was better to stay at the PNP Custodial Center than be transferred to the cramped local jails.
But it was a puzzle why her custodians did not even wonder why she did not have any court hearing to attend for more than five years.
CA Associate Justice Noel G. Tijam aptly said that the unnecessary delay in Urbina’s case “smacks of persecution rather than prosecution and pierces through the very essence of fairness and justice.”
“Atrociously, the length of delay was way beyond the 24-hour period prescribed by RA 9165 (Dangerous Drugs law) for the filing of Information, as well as the 30-day period prescribed by the DOJ within which an automatic review of cases shall be resolved,” the CA ruling affirmed.
People familiar with the Philippine justice system say that it is actually not uncommon—except that the victims of such treatment generally don’t have the financial resources required to get legal redress, or are ignorant of their legal rights, or worse, afraid to complain for fear of police retaliation.
What happened to Urbina, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima admitted, was “an unfortunate and deplorable case of violation of the constitutional and human rights of the respondent.” Reports said she “immediately ordered an in-vestigation to determine if any official is criminally liable for the ‘inordinate and inexcusable delay in resolving the automatic review of the Urbina case.’ “
But nothing was heard about the progress and result of the DoJ investigation. Was it because the principal subject of the investigation was the head of the National Prosecution Service who was the chief prosecutor of Quezon City at the time Urbina should have been charged?
The PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force (AIDSOTF) arrested Urbina and her boyfriend Ben Bryan Chua in an apartment in Kamuning, Quezon City on December 14, 2007 for possession and use of illegal drugs and paraphernalia, in violation of Sections 11, 12 and 15 of Republic Act No. 9165, known as the Comprehensive Dan-gerous Drugs Act of 2002.
The police report said 114.42 grams of shabu and assorted drug paraphernalia were found in the apartment. Urbi-na was present when the police arrived, armed with a search warrant secured from a judge in Manila. Chua later came and was also arrested and taken to Camp Crame with Urbina.
Thirty-three days later on January 25, 2008, the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office dismissed all three charges against Chua for insufficiency of evidence, but the complaint for violation of Sections 11 and 12 against Urbina remained, while Section 15 was dismissed.
Results of tests by the PNP Crime Laboratory Service on urine samples taken from Urbina and Chua turned out positive for methyl amphetamine, or shabu. But the report said the specimen needed to be subjected to a con-firmatory test.
The complaints against Chua and the violation of Section 15 against Urbina were dismissed simply because the PNP failed to submit the required results of confirmatory tests on the accused.
Something went amiss already at that point. If the PNP was serious in its anti-drug campaign, how can a simple re-quirement like that be neglected?