The PNP Crime Laboratory Service came out with test results that Joanne Urbina and Ryan Chua were positive for use of shabu. But the drug complaints were dismissed because the PNP failed to submit the result of a “confirmatory test.”
The case against Joanne should have been filed in the regional trial court within 24 hours after January 25, 2007. But because of a messy process that seemingly began at the desk of then Quezon City Chief Prosecutor Claro Arellano, government prosecutors were able to file the case only on May 9, 2013, five years, three months and 13 days beyond the 24-hour period prescribed under Sec. 92 of Republic Act 9165 (Dangerous Drugs Act), Department of Justice (DOJ) Circular 12, and the Constitutional guarantee to a speedy disposition of cases.
Joanne’s case records show that Arellano, and Assistant City Prosecutors Alfredo Agcaoili and Wilfredo Andres, prepared the information on January 25, 2008, but it was not filed until May 9, 2013.
Joanne said a lawyer who claimed close association with Arellano took her case but disappeared after collecting P150,000. She was then given a lawyer from the Public Attorneys’ Office (PAO) but the case did not move until late last year.
No explanation for delay
Lawyers from the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) who represented Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and the prosecutors during the Court of Appeals hearings could not give the reasons for the long delay in filing the information against Joanne. On the May 8 hearing, they could not even respond to Justice Noel Tijam when he asked if the filing of an information was forthcoming.
During the second CA hearing on May 10, the OSG lawyers told the court that the DOJ had resolved the automatic review of the case on May 8, just a few hours after the CA hearing. Then, the information was filed the next day, and it was raffled off to Branch 227 under Judge Elvira de Castro-Panganiban.
If they had acted as quickly in January 2008, Joanne would not have been deprived of her constitutional right to have her day in court. Either she could have proven her innocence or the prosecutors could have proven her guilt in a case that carried a sentence of life imprisonment.
The information against Joanne said 114.42 grams of shabu were found in the house. The law prescribes a life sentence for possession of illegal drugs more than 50 grams.
Also during the May 10 CA hearing, Arellano practically washed his hands off the case by saying that he had inhibited himself because he was the chief prosecutor of Quezon City when the case was on preliminary investigation.
Actually, the abominable negligence began from Arellano’s desk. The 24-hour prescribed period for the filing of information from the findings of probable cause fell on his lap. He was still the chief city prosecutor at that time, as shown by his signature in the March 19, 2008 endorsement of the case folders of Urbina and Chua to the DOJ for automatic review.
Besides, a DOJ circular prescribed a 30-day period to resolve cases on automatic review. Fifty-three days had passed from January 25 to March 19, 2008. If that was not abuse of authority or abuse of discretion, what would that be?
According to Assistant State Prosecutor Gerard Gaerlan, the DOJ received the Urbina case records on March 26, 2008. What happened between March 19 and March 26? Was the case folder sent through snail mail?
Gaerlan had owned up to the long delay in the filing of a case against Urbina. Well, he was part of it, but there were others before him who should be held more accountable. Did then Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuno, Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Miguel Gudio, and Undersecretary Jose Vicente Salazar in whose desks the case folder passed, ignore the prescription periods and let it wait indefinitely?
When Urbina’s previous lawyer filed a petition for habeas corpus at the RTC in September 2011, the DOJ prosecutors should have already looked for the case records. But Arellano and the other prosecutors apparently relied on Urbina’s waiver in 2007 to justify the long delay in processing her case. And the RTC accepted that flimsy reason.
It was only early this year after Urbina’s new lawyers Siddharta Penaredondo 3rd and Michael Hernandez brought the petition for habeas corpus and certiorari to the CA that the prosecutors realized that a drug suspect named Joanne Urbina has been kept in jail without a case filed in court.
What was more revolting was Arellano’s statement that they filed an appeal to reverse the CA order to release Urbina because the DOJ has affirmed the filing of a case against her. Take note that Arellano made the statement three days after the June 11, 2013 CA order. That was already beyond the 24-hour period within which the prosecutors can file an appeal. From beginning to end, it looked like the DOJ prosecutors were not really keen on observing the law. How horrible! How unfortunate!
No appeal was filed after the lapse of 24 hours from June 13 when the PNP received the CA order. Urbina was allowed to leave detention at 10 p.m. on June 14.
Urbina said prosecutors who bungled her case should be held liable, but she does not have the means to go after them. “Dapat managot sila kasi baka maulit pa sa iba . . . Bahala na lang si God sa kanila. Siguro may plano din naman ang Diyos sa akin,” she said.
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