MANILA - Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre on Friday said he has asked the City Prosecutor of Manila explain why 4 senior citizens accused of drug possession remained incarcerated months after their cases were dismissed.
One of the accused, Api Ang, 61, died in April while the case was under automatic review. Cause of death was due to acute coronary syndrome believed to be caused by the heat in prison.
In an interview, Aguirre said the continued incarceration of the 4, including Ang, directly contravened his own order last January 2017 that ordered their release despite the case being subjected under automatic review.
Introduced in 2003, the automatic review of drug cases is conducted when the complaint was dismissed at the prosecutor’s level involving the maximum penalty of reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment. Suspects are held until the dismissal of the case is affirmed by the review.
The rule was changed thereafter, directing instead that action must be made within 30 days, according to Aguirre.
Aguirre said he issued a department order in January this year scrapping the 30-day rule altogether and directing instead that the suspects must be released immediately after the prosecutor has dismissed their cases.
"January nang in-issue ko yan, kaya dapat pinalabas na nila," he said.
"Apparently ay hindi sinunod yung aking Department Order kaya ang ginawa ko ay pinage-explain ko ang City Prosecutor ng Manila kung bakit hindi nasunod yung aking Department Order," he added.
Under his directive, Aguirre said rather than hold the suspects during the entire duration of the automatic review, authorities should instead file new charges if the review finds probable cause.
"Kung halimbawa after automatic review ay nagkaroon ng panibagong findings na dapat talagang kasuhan, kasuhan na lang muli, hindi yung pananatilihin mo kagaya ng nangyari dito na napaka-tagal, namatay na nga siya sa bilangguan," he said.
PLANTING OF EVIDENCE?
According to Ang's lawyer, 25 Manila Police District officers served the search warrant to the hotel where Ang and the 3 others were staying in Sta. Cruz, Manila.
Arrested were Ang and Henry Go, 64. Ang's wife and sister-in-law, both of whom are senior citizens as well, were also arrested.
Some P2-million was also allegedly stolen during the operation, according to their lawyer.
According to the arresting officers' joint affidavit, they saw Ang and Go in front of the coffee shop and brought them to the hotel's Unit 201 to search the room by virtue of their warrant.
However, a CCTV footage indicated that the operatives entered the room at 3:02 and escorted Ang and Go into the room only at 3:10 p.m.
Another CCTV clip showed that other cops broke into Unit 208 at around 3:05 p.m. Three hours after, they brought Ang into the room where they allegedly found shabu and other drug paraphernalia supposedly owned by the elders.
The three were freed on Thursday after six months in detention at the Manila Police District headquarters.
Aguirre said he has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the CCTV footage of the arrest, if a prosecutor was among the operatives who supposedly "planted evidence" in the hotel where the seniors were staying.
NOT THE FIRST
Authorities earlier sacked 4 police officers for allegedly planting drug evidence against a city engineer of Bacolor, Pampanga in exchange for money.
Last January, Philippine National Police chief Ronald Dela Rosa also ordered the relief of police officers who were caught on video allegedly planting drugs during a raid at an office building.
Footage of the alleged planting of drugs was shown during a Senate hearing.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson earlier said the cops involved in the "tanim-droga" operation stole P7 million from the BPO company and extorted an additional P2 million from the BPO company's owners "so they would not come back."
The group Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) also said there are about 10 more "tanim-droga" victims who have requested for their help but refuse to go public for the meantime due to security reasons.