Let the chips fall where they may

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Tita ValderamaBUNGLING and delaying the prosecution of a drug case means 12 to 20 years jail term under the law.

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What if the offenders include the prosecutor general, the chief of all prosecutors, under the Department of Justice?

My two-part column published on June 24 (A series of unfortunate events) and June 25 (Prosecutors abuse authority) narrated many lapses in prosecuting the case of drug suspect Joanne Urbina that led to the Court of Appeals decision on June 11 to release her after five years and four months of languishing in jail without a case filed in court.

On July 1, Solicitor General Francis H. Jardeleza withdrew the June 17 petition that his office filed in the Supreme Court for the reversal of the June 11 Court of Appeals ruling for the Philippine National Police to release Urbina from its Custodial Center in Camp Crame.

The same OSG petition for review on certiorari, filed on behalf of the DoJ, said the CA erred in nullifying the information filed in the Quezon City Regional Trial Court against Urbina on May 9, or after five years and four months from the time then City Chief Prosecutor Claro A. Arellano found probable cause to indict her.

The three-page motion to withdraw petition for review had the signatures of Jardeleza, Assistant Solicitor General Rex Bernardo L. Pascual and Senior State Solicitor Arturo C. Medina. The 28-page petition for review dated June 17 had seven other signatures of subordinates in the OSG.

Jardeleza gave no reason for withdrawing the petition, except to quote a June 26 memorandum from Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that said: “After an examination of the facts of the subject case, we have decided to withdraw the Petition for Certiorari filed with the Supreme Court which challenges the June 11, 2013 decision of the Court of Appeals.”

Does the decision to withdraw mean an admission of lapses in the prosecution? What then will de Lima do to the erring prosecutors?

The June 11 CA decision also carried a directive to de Lima “to conduct an investigation on the attendant circumstances of this case, with the end in view of identifying the underlying cause/s for the delay; to install immediately remedial measures to avoid a repetition of the same injustice in the future.”

De Lima has yet to report back to the CA the outcome of the investigation that she delegated to the Internal Affairs Unit the DoJ.

That will be a case of having the subordinates investigating their chief. I wonder what the findings will be.

Section 92 of RA 9165 provides a jail term of 12 to 20 years on “any government officer or employee tasked with the prosecution of drug-related cases who, through patent laxity, inexcusable neglect, and unreasonable delay or deliberately causes the unsuccessful prosecution and/or dismissal of the drug cases.”

Well, I still believe somehow that all branches of government—executive, legislative, and judiciary—adhere to the rule of law; that no one is above the law.

It means that everyone is subject to the law; that no one, no matter how powerful, rich, or important, is exempted from the law—not even the President, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the secretary of Justice, the chief of the Armed Forces, nor the prosecutor general.

If we allow somebody with awesome responsibility and power like the prosecutor general to go unpunished for violating the most basic and fundamental requirement of due process of law, what would it say about the government’s commitment to the rule of law? To the Constitution? To democracy?

At this point when the people’s trust in the judiciary needs repair, the June 11, 2013 ruling of the Court of Appeals in the petition for habeas corpus and certiorari by drug suspect Joanne Urbina may serve as a case study in assessing and evaluating the performance, or non-performance of the DoJ prosecution service, particularly involving drug cases.

Last March, a news report said 49 drug cases were dismissed from July to December 2012 for insufficiency of evidence because the prosecution failed to present the testimonies of policemen who were involved in the arrest of the accused.

Philippine National Police chief Director Alan Purisima had ordered the dismissal of and filing of criminal cases against 52 policemen under the Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force (AIDSOTF) who allegedly bungled the drug cases.

Section 91 of RA 9165 also prescribes a penalty of 12 to 20 years imprisonment and fine of at least P500,000, plus administrative liability, on any member of the law enforcement agencies or any other government official and employee who fails or refuses to testify for the prosecution in any proceedings involving violations of the drugs law.

The errant lawman’s superior who fails to exert reasonable effort to present them in court can also be sent to jail for two to six months and fined P10, 000 t0o P50, 000, and be barred from public office for life.

Bungling the prosecution of cases certainly put to shame the government’s oft-repeated campaign against dangerous drugs, and the Supreme Court’s programs for speedy trial of cases.

It is about time to let the chips fall where they may. The Urbina case presents an opportunity to the courts, and the DoJ to show that we have a government of laws, and not of men; that prosecutors ought to observe due process of law, and anyone who falls short of it must bear the consequences.

Comments are welcome at tvalderama@yahoo.com

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