No more repeat of Guantanamo-like case in PH - De Lima

Posted at 06/18/13 3:23 PM

MANILA - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima expressed disgust over the imprisonment of an alleged drug user for five years sans a case filed against her.

In an interview with reporters Tuesday, de Lima said: “I’m aghast as the [Court of Appeals] is about that case. It's indeed an unfortunate and deplorable case of violation of the constitutional and human rights of the respondent concerned. I am poised to seriously investigate that matter, as directed by the CA, in order to determine accountabilities.”

In a decision promulgated June 11, the Court of Appeals ordered the release of Joanne Urbina from Camp Crame, where she was detained for more than five years.

The author of the case, Associate Justice Noel Tijam, slammed the Department of Justice for its inaction in the case. “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.”

The appellate court likened the case to images in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, a US facility where interrogations are made against detainees tagged as terrorists. “It conjures up images of Guantanamo Bay detainees who have never been allowed a speedy and fair trial, a civil right granted to all by the Constitution,” the ruling said.

De Lima noted the case happened in 2008 when she was not yet with the agency. She said, however, “as head of the institution, I also feel responsible, and I’m taking full responsibility, for this ugly dent on DOJ's integrity as an institution.”

She said an investigation will be done against those responsible for the injustice. If possible, heads will roll, she said.

She said the probe will be done by the DoJ’s Internal Affairs Unit (IAU). 

“I will wait for the outcome of IAU investigation and will act accordingly. That means that depending on the facts that may be gathered in that IAU investigation, there's a possibility of expanding the scope of the probe to other officials, if any, responsible for the inordinate and inexcusable delay in resolving the automatic review of the Urbina case,” she said.

As ordered too by the CA, de Lima said remedial measures will be put in place to avoid such kinds of incidents in the future.

She said one measure is now in place. In February, de Lima issued circulars containing guidelines on the release of the accused pending an automatic review of his or her illegal drugs case.

Urbina, together with a certain Ben Ryan Chua, was arrested by the Philippine National Police Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force on Dec. 14, 2007. 

Inquest proceedings were conducted a day later. 

On Jan. 25, 2008, the DOJ through Prosecutor General Claro Arellano and prosecutors Alfredo Agcaoili and Wilfredo Andres, dismissed the case against Chua while charging Urbina with violation of Sections 11 and 12 of Republic Act 9165 or the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 for possession of illegal drugs and possession of equipment/apparatus for dangerous drugs.

Despite the findings, not a single case was filed in court. The DOJ only moved when Urbina sought a petition for habeas corpus.