THE Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) has asked the Supreme Court (SC) to overturn the Court of Appeals order for the release of drug suspect Joanne Urbina who languished in jail for more than five years without a case filed against her in court.
In a 28-page petition for review on certiorari dated June 17, the OSG said the CA erred in entertaining Urbina’s petition for habeas corpus and certiorari after an information was filed against her at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court on May 9, 2013.
The CA 7th Division, in an 18-page decision dated June 11, 2013, ordered the Philippine National Police to release Urbina whose right to due process and speedy trial was violated when prosecutors did not file the information within the 24-hour period prescribed in Section 90 of Republic Act No. 9165, or the Dangerous Drugs Act.
“More than five years of detention, without valid information filed in court, is unreasonable; it is intolerable; it is shockingly unimaginable. It smacks of persecution rather than prosecution and pierces through the very essence of fairness and justice,” said the decision penned by Associate Justice Noel G. Tijam.
But the OSG said the CA erred in interpreting the provisions of DOJ Circular No. 46 and No. 12 as they asserted that “the 30-day period for deciding cases under automatic review is not mandatory but merely directory in view of the qualifying phrase ‘as far as practicable’ in both” circulars.
Ten lawyers from the OSG led by Solicitor General Francis H. Jardeleza signed the petition on behalf of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Prosecutor General Claro A. Arellano, Assistant City Prosecutors Alfredo P. Agcaoili and Wilfredo C. Andres of Quezon City, and Police Superintendent Cesar T. Magsino of the PNP Custodial Center.
“Parenthetically, the period for conducting a preliminary investigation and the filing of the corresponding information in court stated in Section 90 of R.A. 9165 should not be interpreted as mandatory,” the OSG told the SC.
Section 90 of RA 9165 states that preliminary investigation of cases filed under it shall be terminated within 30 days from the date of filing. It also prescribed the filing of an information within 24 hours from the termination of the investigation upon finding probable cause by a public prosecutor.
The PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force (PNP-AIFSOTF) arrested Urbina and Ben Ryan Chua on Dec. 14, 2007 in their rented apartment in Kamuning, Quezon City after they purportedly found sachets of shabu and marijuana and drug paraphernalia in the house.
They were submitted to an inquest the next day.
On Jan. 25, 2008, Chief City Prosecutor Claro Arellano, Assistant Prosecutors Alfredo P. Agcaoili and Wilfredo C. Andres came out with a resolution finding probable cause to indict Urbina for possession of illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia.
The case records of Chua and Urbina were sent on March 19, 2008 to the Justice secretary for automatic review.
The DOJ resolved case on May 8, 2013, just a few hours after the CA held its first hearing on Urbina’s petition for habeas corpus and certiorari. The next day, the prosecutors filed a complaint against Urbina.
The OSG said the CA should have dismissed Urbina’s petition for habeas corpus, or declared it moot and academic. Instead of filing a habeas corpus petition to the CA, the OSG lawyers said Urbina should have exhausted the administrative remedy by filing a verified petition for review before the DOJ.
Further, the OSG argued that the CA committed reversible error when it declared as null and void the information filed on May 9, 2013 against Urbina, saying that the Quezon City RTC was not a party to the CA petition.
The OSG likewise disagreed with the CA that Urbina’s constitutional rights to due process and speedy trial were violated.
The OSG described as “speculative” the CA’s view that the long delay in filing the information against Urbina raised the possibility that her ability to adequately prepare for her defense was impaired by the passage of time.
“It is respectfully submitted that the apprehension of the Court of Appeals is, at best, speculative, and is not a ground sufficient enough to deprive the government of its inherent prerogative to prosecute criminal cases,” the OSG told the High Court.