SC JUSTICES SEE PERSECUTION IN LACSON RULING

Manila, April 3, 2003 -- Supreme Court Associate Justice Angelina Sandoval 
said the "over-eagerness" of the government to prosecute Sen. Panfilo 
Lacson was a "clear example of persecution."

At the same time, she said the re-opening of the Kuratong Baleleng multiple 
murder case against Lacson and 37 others shortly after the Arroyo 
government came to power in 2001 gave the impression it was done for 
political ends.

Gutierrez was one of four justices who voted against the Supreme Court 
decision ordering the re-filing of the charges against Lacson and his 
co-accused.

The others were Associate Justices Reynato Puno, Jose Vitug and Consuelo 
Ynares-Santiago.

In her 29-page dissenting opinion, Gutierrez said "prosecution of an 
accused must not be made to depend on who is perceived as an enemy by those 
who sit in power, but on the sacrosanct duty of prosecutors to bring to 
justice those believed to be offenders of the law while ensuring that their 
rights under the Constitution remain inviolable."

She shared the view of the Court of Appeals when it declared that 
persecution was apparent in the way the charges were revived against Lacson 
by the Department of Justice then headed by Secretary Hernando Perez.

"Persecution is likewise apparent in the hurried pace at which the 
preliminary investigation of the subject criminal cases was completed by 
respondent prosecutors and in the immediate and abrupt filing of the 
informations against petitioners in only a matter of days after the 
original petition had been filed in (the CA)," Gutierrez said, quoting from 
the CA resolution.

She also expressed doubts on the validity of the supposed commencement of 
the re-filing of the charges against Lacson.

"Not to be glossed over is the fact that preliminary investigation which 
resulted in the filing of new information was initiated only by the letter 
of PNP Chief Leandro Mendoza to (Perez). I do not think that the said 
letter could qualify as a complaint (to be) the basis for a preliminary 
investigation. The procedure adopted is a departure from the usual mode," 
Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez warned her colleagues not to allow themselves to be used for 
"political manipulation."

"As the last bulwark of the defenseless and the accused, our duty is to 
uphold the law and no other. Certainly, in the hierarchy of rights, the 
Bill of Rights takes precedence over the right of the State to prosecute, 
and when weighed against each other, the scales of justice tilts toward the 
former," she stressed.

Voting 10-4-1, the SC on Tuesday ordered the re-opening of the case against 
Lacson and his 37 co-accused for the death of 11 members of the Kuratong 
Baleleng gang.

The majority decision said the provisional dismissal of the case by Quezon 
City regional trial court Judge Wenceslao Agnir on March 6, 1999 was not 
valid because it was made without Lacson's consent and without notice to 
the victims.

Applying the two-year bar rule prospectively, the high court said the 
filing of a new information on June 6, 2001 was within the two-year period 
by which a case provisionally dismissed could still be revived.

The court said counting the two-year period should begin in December 1, 
2001, when the new bar rule took effect, not on the date Agnir dismissed 
the case.

Justice Puno, in his separate dissenting opinion, said the provisional 
dismissal of the case was with Lacson's express consent when he moved for 
judicial determination of probable cause.

"For all intents and purposes, a motion for judicial determination of 
probable cause can be treated as a motion to dismiss for lack of probable 
cause," Puno said.

He said that if a motion for judicial determination was granted, the only 
course the judge could take was to dismiss the case.

Puno also said the majority ruling did not properly interpret the judicial 
admissions made by Lacson's lawyer Sigfrid Fortun when he argued the case 
before the CA.

Associate Justice Romeo Callejo, who penned the majority decision, ruled 
that Fortun admitted before the CA that the provisional dismissal of the 
case was not made with Lacson's consent.

Puno said Fortun took that position because he was arguing against its 
re-filing on the ground of double jeopardy.

"The issue in the case at bar is the nature and effect of a motion for 
judicial determination of probable cause. The issue is basically legal, and 
should be resolved in accordance with our laws and not on the basis of the 
arguments of parties which are often twisted to serve their peculiar 
interests," he said.

Puno also said he regrets the way the majority ruling had refused to apply 
the two-year bar rule retroactively.

The majority ruling said applying the rule retroactively (beginning March 
30, 1999) would deprive the State of the full two-year period provided by 
law for the revival of a case.

"If the court applied the new time-bar retroactively, the State would have 
only one year and three months or until March 30, 2001 within which to 
revive these criminal cases. The period is short of two years fixed under 
the new rules," the majority ruling said.

The ruling further said the period from March 30, 1999 to Nov. 30, 1999 
should be excluded in the computation of the two-year period because the 
new rule was not yet in effect.

Puno said application of the new rule should be taken in the light of the 
purposes for which they were adopted.

Puno, who chaired the SC committee on the revision of the rules of court 
that drafted the time-bar rule, said the time-bar rule was a "remedial 
measure to check the continuing inaction on the part of the State to 
prosecute pending cases."

With the prospective application of the rule, Puno said the SC gave a wrong 
signal that it was encouraging delay in the prosecution of cases because 
even those cases which were provisionally dismissed five or ten years ago 
may still be revived on the reason that the law was not yet in effect 
during those times.

"Let us not half pause in applying the new rule for it addresses 
inexcusable delays in the prosecution of cases already filed in court. 
Devoid of legalese, it tells the State not to sleep on its job. If we 
cannot tell the prosecution to do its job within a reasonable time frame, 
we might as well close shop," he said.  (By CHELOY GARAFIL, Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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