RTC’s Contreras denies DOJ motions on shabu lab cases
posted 15-Apr-2018  ·  
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Within a span of two days, Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 43 Presiding Judge Lelu P. Contreras has denied twin motions by prosecutors of the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking reconsideration of her order to destroy the shabu lab evidence and asking her inhibit from hearing the four criminal cases.

The judge also denied the motion of one of the accused, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agent Augusto Eric Isidoro, to remain in bureau custody at the NBI jail.

Reacting to the DOJ motion dated Mar. 21, 2018 on what it described as the Court’s premature and hasty order to destroy drug evidence in the shabu lab cases, Judge Lelu P. Contreras chided the three prosecutors for focusing on destroying her honor and integrity.

In denying the motion for lack of merit, the RTC Branch 43 presiding judge again ordered the regional director of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Administration or his authorized representatives to proceed with the destruction without further delay in the presence of the accused or the persons from whom the items were confiscated, or their counsels, representatives from the media, DOJ, civil society groups and any elected public official provided representative samples, duly weighed and recorded, are retained.

Senior Assistant Prosecutors Juan Pedro Navera and Alexander Suarez, and Assistant State Prosecuor Josie Christina Dugay had prayed to the Court to reconsider the “premature” order issued on Mar. 21, based on their reading of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act 9165. They claimed that the IRR requires that an urgent motion shall be filed with the Court for the destruction of the drug evidence, with prayer for ocular inspection within 72 hours.

“The movant-prosecutors even had the nerve to insinuate that there is an unexplained haste that is curiously disadvantageous to the defense of the accused,” the Court noted.

Showing a comparison of the IRR and the law itself, Contreras stated that the prosecutors were blinded by their malicious minds that they did not consider the provisions of law or, if ever they did, simply forgot the basic principle that in case of conflict between the law and its IRR, the law should prevail.

She pointed out that RA 9165 only states that such an order shall be issued by the Court within 72 hours after the filing of the criminal case.

“There was no mention in RA 9165 of any motion that needed to be filed first before an ocular inspection could be conducted by the Court,” she stressed.

Judge Contreras also observed as “very ironic” that while the prosecutors cited the IRR provision to convince the Court to reconsider its order, they themselves reneged in their duties to file with the Court the motion for destruction immediately upon filing of the informations on Mar. 12.

She likewise disputed their claim of unexplained haste, as the ocular inspection was conducted not within 72 hours but 138 hours from the filing of the cases, with PDEA yet to commence the destruction of the drug evidence despite receipt of the order on Mar. 21.

Bicol PNP intel chief apologizes for “lies”

On the other DOJ motion, Contreras said she has already announced her intention to inhibit from handling the shabu lab cases, but not on the basis of the motion filed by the prosecutors.

The judge stated in her April 3 order that she will do so for security reasons after the preliminary stages of the proceedings, as she has to oversee the destruction of the contents of the shabu lab by PDEA.

Contreras denied the motion after Bicol PNP intelligence chief Superintendent Alex Pederio submitted to DOJ a supplemental affidavit recanting the statements he made in the December 2, 2016 affidavit that was used by the prosecutors as basis for filing the motion.

“In view of Supt. Pederio’s recantation, the motion for inhibition filed by the three prosecutors has no more leg to stand on, thus it is hereby denied,” the Court said.

Judge Contreras described Supt. Pederio’s recollection of her participation in the shabu lab cases as “erroneous and inaccurate,” contradicting the sworn affidavit dated Nov. 26, 2016 that the intel officer made in support of the application for search warrant.

Pederio had claimed that when he, Senior Inspector Charles de Leon and the SOCO team arrived at the gate, he was surprised to see the judge already there along with Mayor Samuel Laynes and Angelica Balmadrid. He also claimed that they borrowed a saw to open the padlock.

According to those who were there, Pederio’s group was not yet the scene at the time and it was the mayor who asked a worker at the nearby road project to destroy the padlock. Judge Contreras arrived at the scene only after 11:30 A.M. when the mayor’s party had already left.

“It is but unfortunate that the movant prosecutors simply relied on Supt. Pederio’s Salaysay and made a sweeping conclusion that ‘it has no confidence in her impartiality and urges her to exercise sound discretion and immediately recuse or inhibit herself from hearing the aforementioned cases’ without lifting a single finger to verify from other sources what actually transpired..,” Judge Contreras stressed, citing the testimonies of Mayor Laynes and Chief Inspector James Ronatay during the public hearing conducted by the House Dangerous Drugs Committee.

The security guards’ logbook at the Hall of Justice also disproved Pederio’s allegation that the judge was not in her chambers the whole afternoon of Nov. 26 and that the search warrant was issued almost nighttime.

The prosecutors simply forgot that it was a Saturday, during which she was in her office the whole day, and they also disregarded the fact that when the Court was informed of the intent to apply for a warrant, the Chinese had already left the area.

Judge Contreras called up Supt. Pederio and confronted him regarding the lies, with the officer later apologizing and submitting an affidavit recanting his statements against the undersigned. The judge, though, did not find his reasons convincing.

Isidoro should be presented to the Court

Meanwhile, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is likely to present accused shabu lab conspirator Augusto Eric Isidoro before the Regional Trial Court in Virac after his counsel failed to convince the Court to let the Bureau have custody of the accused during the pendency of the case.

This possibility arose last week after RTC Branch 43 Presiding Judge Lelu P. Contreras stated in her order on the urgent motion filed by Atty. Reynold Tabbu that it could not be acted upon unless the Court acquires jurisdiction over the accused.

“Whoever is making a return of the said Warrant of Arrest should know that when the accused is apprehended, he should be presented to the Court,” the judge stressed, noting that the return of the arrest warrant has yet to be received by the Court.

Atty. Tabbu stated in his motion filed April 2, 2018 that Isidoro surrendered to the NBI on Mar. 20 in full compliance to the warrant of arrest issued by the RTC and has been detained at the NBI jail, with the return of the arrest warrant already forwarded to the Court.

In asking the RTC to allow Isidoro’s continued detention at the NBI, Tabbu claimed that the accused has been an agent for years now and has investigated, apprehended and filed cases against high profile criminals, some of them convicted by the Courts.

“…it is but fair that the accused be detained in a safe facility particularly at the NBI jail for security reasons,” he said, adding that his detention in any other facility will put his life in great danger as he has been receiving death threats since the filing of the case.

“The State has the duty to protect herein accused not only because he is presumed innocent until proven otherwise but due to the utmost consideration that he is an Agent of the National Bureau of Investigation,” Atty. Tabbu claimed.

In contrast with Isidoro’s stay at NBI jail, co-accused Lorenzo Piñera II has been languishing at the Virac district jail since his arrest on Mar. 16. Now represented by Atty. Sinforoso Sarmiento, he was supposed to be arraigned last week but the arraignment did not push through.

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