MANILA — A Dumaguete court has issued warrants of arrest against 5 Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) agents found guilty of indirect contempt over a fake buy-bust operation in June last year.
Judge Amelia Lourdes Mendoza of the Negros Oriental Regional Trial Court Branch 34 on February 22, Monday, issued arrest warrants against Nelson Muchuelas, May Ann Carmelo, Jose Anthony Juanites, Cheryl Mae Villaver and Realyn Pinpin.
They were sentenced to 6 months in jail and fined P30,000 each, based on a copy of the February 5 resolution.
The 5 PDEA agents arrested 5 persons accused of selling drugs in Dumaguete, claiming that one of the accused allegedly sold a small sachet of shabu to a poseur-buyer.
But the accused presented CCTV footage showing PDEA agents “picked up” the accused one after the other, forcing them to go inside a blue AUV.
The Dumaguete court junked the drug case in October 2020 and PDEA immediately launched a probe.
But it initiated indirect contempt proceedings against the PDEA agents and two witnesses — the media representative and a barangay official.
Both witnesses were absolved in November last year after they explained they did not take part in the operation and arrived only during the inventory.
Mendoza found that the 5 PDEA agents “acted willfully and deliberately to cause injustice to accused and to degrade the administration of justice” based on CCTV footage which unmasked the fake buy-bust.
The CCTV footage showed a blue AUV traced to PDEA and the accused who were arrested were identified through pieces of clothing submitted as evidence.
The court said the blue AUV tied the accused to their arrests and, in turn, the arrests to PDEA.
“The PDEA vehicle cannot just appear on its own at the places where accused happened to be arrested, and in the absence of any showing that this car has been carnapped, sold, or otherwise placed beyond PDEA’s control, the car’s appearance at the crucial moments when accused were arrested can only mean that it was operated by people authorised by PDEA to drive the same, who exercised effective control over the vehicle, and who had carried out the elaborate scheme to arrest the five accused using the said vehicle,” it said.
“On top of this, the arrests were made on the very same day, and close to or near the time of the supposed buy-bust operation that it becomes very difficult not to see PDEA’s involvement in the illegal arrests,” it added.
In their defense, PDEA agents stuck to their narrative that they conducted a legitimate buy-bust operation in the house of one of the accused and denied involvement in the arrests in the other places shown in the CCTV footage, claiming they used a different PDEA vehicle.
But the court rejected their claims after finding that the plate number of the vehicle the agents claimed they used actually belongs to another person with a different AUV.
The court called it a “blatant lie,” misleading the court in an effort to “dig themselves out of this contempt grave.”
“The Court wants to emphasize that the basis for the indirect contempt charge arises from the fact that the official narrative of the arrests as contained in the affidavits, photographs, and other attachments to the complaint has been unmasked as false and fake,” the court said.
“The entire case filed by PDEA against accused, which became the basis for the filing of seven information, is completely based on a big lie that the Court finds offensive, at the very least, and is indicative of respondents’ contempt for the rule of law. If this is not a denigration of the administration of justice, then nothing is.”
Judge Mendoza also said the circumstances — from PDEA agents taking the accused to one place to conducting an inventory and participating in inquest proceedings — all indicate the actions of the PDEA agents were deliberate and intentional.
“That respondents used the law, legal processes, and this Court as pawns in this grand scheme means that each step they took was deliberate, calculated and intentional. There was nothing accidental about the whole fiasco,” she said.
Judge Mendoza said the PDEA agents’ conduct showed contempt for the rule of law and brings the entire justice system into disrepute and embarrassment. She wondered how many other cases out there have worked against the poor and marginalized.
“By initiating the indirect contempt proceedings, and consequently finding respondents guilty of contempt, it can be said that this Court is merely putting things back in its proper place, so that we do not lose sight of the injustice committed against accused in these cases.”
“Moreover, by imposing the maximum penalty under Rule 71 of the Rules of Court, it can be said that this Court is merely restoring the primacy of the Constitution and the rule of law as the highest ideals that we must continue to aspire for as we attempt to put order in our society, as opposed to impunity and legal warfar we are currently witnessing,” she continued.
“In so doing, this Court ensures that should we ever need these rights guaranteed under our Constitution, we will always know where and how to find them.”