• Habeas corpus gets no release

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    NO martial law has been declared outside of Mindanao but it would seem the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus has been suspended in the rest of the Philippines.

    On June 2, the House of Representatives apparently prevented Sergeant-at-Arms Roland Detabali from heeding a petition for such a writ that had been issued by the Court of Appeals requiring him to produce before the appellate court six employees of the provincial government of Ilocos Norte who were being investigated by the chamber for alleged misuse of more than P66 million in tobacco funds under the watch of Gov. Imee Marcos.

    On June 7, the House also apparently again stopped Detabili from appearing before the appellate court in connection with the petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by the employees, who have been detained since May 29 at the Batasan Complex..

    The six employees were declared in contempt and ordered detained by the House committee on good government and public accountability because of supposedly “evasive” answers to questions from Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, the committee chairman. The six—Pedro Agcaoili, Planning and Development Office head; Josephine Calajate, treasurer; Evangeline Tabulog, budget officer; and Eden Battulayan, Encarnacion Gaor and Genedine Jambaro, all Treasurer’s Office staff—were being investigated by the committee for their alleged complicity in mishandling taxpayers’ money.

    Apparently, Detabali twice took his cue from the Fariñas committee and ignored the instructions of the Court of Appeals to produce the six employees.

    The second time that Detabali was a no-show, the Ilocos Norte lawmaker reportedly said the House surrendering its contempt powers to the CA would “negate” the constitutional grant of legislative powers to Congress.

    On June 8, the “Ilocos 6,” as the employees had dubbed themselves, through one of their lawyers and former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza, pleaded before the court to issue an order allowing them to post bail for their temporary liberty, citing how the House had ignored the habeas corpus petition, as well as the court’s order to Detabili to show cause for continuing to detain the group.

    Generally, according to a journalist-lawyer whom we consulted, administrative and criminal cases involving public officials, such as congressmen, could be brought before the Office of the Ombudsman.

    But, he said, lawmakers cannot be arrested both while Congress is in session and when the criminal offense they are accused of carries a prison term of less than six years.

    Even if Congress is on recess and will reconvene on July 24, they can only be cited in contempt, as in this case, for disregarding the habeas corpus petition.

    With the legislature on a long break, it looks like the Ilocos 6 will have to stay in detention until Congress reopens.

    According to Marcos, “politics” could be behind the ordeal of the Ilocos Norte provincial employees, citing as a possible reason her not issuing Fariñas a certificate of nomination and acceptance (Cona) for the May 2016 elections.

    The Cona was a required document that would have made Fariñas—Marcos’ partymate in the Nacionalista Party until he joined President Rodrigo Duterte’s PDP-Laban—the official candidate for the congressional seat of the first district of Ilocos Norte.

    As of press time, Fariñas had not addressed this allegation of the governor.

    Apparently, he also has not taken issue with a claim of the Ilocos 6 that they opted not to answer the Fariñas committee’s questions because the queries were allegedly based on “photocopies” of supposed documents from the vehicles purchased in 2013 yet.

    Truth has again become a casualty of politics, it would seem, and as the case of the Ilocos 6 would also seem to prove, the little people have again gotten caught in the crossfire.

    For now, Marcos said, “what we want most is for them [the provincial employees]to be released, because we know that their detention arose from a local political problem that should not have been brought here [Congress] in the first place.”

    Such a problem also should not even reach Malacañang because it could pose a dilemma for the President, who evidently enjoys the support of the “warring” camps.

    If they make him choose, nothing will be resolved, and the “truth” will not set either camp free.
    Meanwhile, the Ilocos 6 could be spending Christmas at the Batasang Pambansa.

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