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A blow for justice

/ 04:07 AM October 27, 2020

It hardly made primetime news, but in a ringing blow for justice, a judge in Dumaguete City recently dismissed drug cases against five suspects after finding out that agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) had fabricated the charges.

The fake drug buy-bust, which was busted thanks to the existence of CCTV cameras, stemmed from drug charges filed against one Richard Torres and four others, whom the PDEA claimed were arrested in Torres’ house while holding a pot session and selling a sachet of shabu to an undercover agent on June 28.

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But the suspects presented footage from CCTV cameras operated by the city government which showed that the suspects were actually picked up in five different locations around the city and brought to Torres’ house.

The PDEA agents’ sense of impunity was such that they even used the agency’s official vehicle for their bogus operation.

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The CCTV footage showed a blue AUV, its registration later traced to PDEA, in at least five different locations, convincing the court that the suspects were “arrested in places other than where the supposed buy-bust operation took place and at a much earlier time than that declared by PDEA agents.”

“The time stamps on these videos corroborate the allegations of the accused. It would have been nearly impossible for accused to produce CCTV videos randomly depicting an identical blue utility car with dark windows in all five locations, and within a little more than an hour time frame. Such a tale would be too tall to concoct,” the court said in its Oct. 9 decision.

Judge Amelia Lourdes Mendoza of Negros Oriental Regional Trial Court Branch 34 ruled that the five accused were illegally arrested, and that evidence against them was inadmissible.

The judge also initiated contempt charges against PDEA agents Nelson Muchuelas, May Ann Carmelo, Jose Anthony Juanites, Cheryl Mae Villaver, and Realyn Pinpin “for misleading the court, for making untruthful statements in their affidavits, and for directly impeding and degrading the administration of justice.’’

And to further underline the gravity of the PDEA agents’ offense, the judge sent a copy of her ruling to the Dumaguete prosecutor’s office and the Department of Justice, to prod them to look into the criminal liability of these officers of the law and to determine the administrative liability of PDEA headed by its director general Wilkins Villanueva.

Judge Mendoza’s ruling is most laudable and timely, with police transgressions in the name of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs seemingly going on unabated.In February this year, a similar fake drug raid was carried out by Bulacan police, with more horrific results. The cops rounded up six people who were passing by near the house of a drug suspect. They were blindfolded, hog-tied, and detained in a secret room at the San Jose del Monte police office. Later, the six were brought to different places and summarily killed. The official story? “Nanlaban.”

The National Bureau of Investigation itself filed cases of murder, kidnapping, and planting of guns and drugs against the 11 Bulacan cops involved in the heinous operation, including chief Police Maj. Leo Commendador dela Rosa.

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Such police impunity continues despite President Duterte loudly and repeatedly ruminating against corruption and official wrongdoing in his government. But when it comes to the police, the President is reflexively protective, poised at every turn to assure the chief executioners of his pet program that he has their back. No wonder many cops have ended up abusing their power and position in the most appalling ways.

And that is why Judge Mendoza’s ruling against the erring policemen, in its decisive reaffirmation of the rule of law, is a shaft of light in these murky times. Also, she didn’t stop there. She reminded the judiciary that it should be the “bulwark against executive excesses and misuse or abuse of power.’’

“This Court shall not shirk from this immense responsibility of protecting not only the individual rights of the accused in these cases, but more importantly, in ensuring that individual liberties are never sacrificed on account of expediency and efficacy of the war on drugs,” she said. “Mere expediency was never intended as an excuse for constitutional shortcuts, which are abhorrent to the rule of law ideals defining constitutionalism in this country.”

More, because the brave judge’s words are worth quoting and remembering: “Nothing short than constant vigilance on the part of the courts is required to prevent our slippery slope towards contempt for the law and anarchy. The courts must step in and take the cudgels for individual liberties, and in no other situation is this duty more critical and necessary than when the supposed protectors of law and order become the perpetrators themselves.’’

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TAGS: Amelia Lourdes Mendoza, Editorial, PDEA, PDEA illegal arrest
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