Manila prosecutor questions DOJ ruling

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The Court of Appeals Fifth Division ordered Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to comment on the petition filed by Manila City Prosecutor Edward Togonon questioning the legality of the 90-day preventive suspension imposed against him.

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In an order dated July 5, 2017 and signed by Executive Clerk of Court Caroline Ocampo-Peralta, Aguirre and his co-respondent Prosecutor Alexander Ramos, officer-in-charge of the Office of the Manila City Prosecutor, were given 10 days to file a comment, and the petitioner to file a reply within five days from receipt of the comment.

The embattled former president of the Prosecutors League of the Philippines (PLP) went to the appellate court to challenge his preventive suspension and the administrative case lodged against him.

In a letter dated June 8, 2017 signed by Aguirre, Togonon was formally charged with gross neglect of duty, gross insubordination and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

The charges stemmed from the case of four elderly arrested in an anti-drugs operation of the Manila Police District (MPD) in Sta. Cruz, Manila on November 2016 wherein cases against three of the respondents were dismissed by the Manila Prosecutors Office on January 30, 2017 due to insufficiency of evidence but they remained in jail until May 2017.

Aguirre said that Togonon disregarded his Department Circular 004 dated January 4, 2017 directing the immediate release from detention of the respondents whose drug charges had been dismissed on inquest or preliminary investigation pending the result of the automatic review.

However, Togonon, in his petition before the appellate court, assailed the formal charge and his suspension saying it is “in utter violation of his fundamental rights to procedural and substantial due process, existing jurisprudence and security of tenure as mandated by law and a provision of Republic Act No. 10071, otherwise known as the National Prosecution Service Act of 2010.”

He sought the issuance of temporary restraining order to stop the continuous implementation of his preventive suspension and the ongoing investigation against him.

Togonon believed that he earned Aguirre’s ire because of his suspicion that he is involved in an alleged plot to oust him from his position at the time when the Commission on Appointments has not yet been confirmed his appointment.

“Lamentably, petitioner is herein being unreasonably made to account for the non-release by the MPD of certain illegal drug detainees despite the dismissal of their criminal cases by OCP-Manila. Respondent Justice Secretary thus put petitioner to task for the failure or refusal of the police to release certain illegal drug detainees.”

He added that Department Circular 004 does not specifically require the prosecutor concerned to issue an order for the release, pending automatic review, of a detained person whose illegal drug case has been dismissed.

“This is so because the release of a detainee whose criminal case had already been dismissed is precisely the legal and logical consequence of such dismissal. Stated simply, no release order is required anymore in cases of dismissal of criminal case by the prosecutor since, as earlier stressed, the release of the detainee in such case merely follows said dismissal as a matter of course.

Moreover, with the use of the term “immediate” in Department Circular No. 004, the release of the detainee therefore becomes all the more “automatic” on the part of the persona having his custody, MPD in this case,” the petition stated.

Togonon also pointed out that in a meeting with Aguirre and high ranking DOJ officials, the city prosecutors of the National Capital Region then present sought a clarification on the implementation of the Department Circular No. 004 since it is not clear as to who between the prosecutor concerned and the office of the justice secretary where automatic review of drug cases are pending, shall issue the release order.

In the said meeting, they were made to understand that DOJ would come up with a supplemental circular clarifying the subject department circular, an understanding which was allegedly impliedly admitted by Aguirre in his Memorandum of June 7, 2017.

Togonon also said that his preventive suspension was just a ploy so Aguirre can install Prosecutor Alexander Ramos, his junior fraternity brother, as officer-in-charge of the Office of the City Prosecutor of Manila.

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