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CA junks Morong 43's habeas corpus plea; lawyers to seek SC review

March 10, 2010 10:37am

(Updated March 11 10:12 a.m.) The Court of Appeals on Wednesday denied a petition to issue a writ of habeas corpus for the 43 health workers arrested by government security officers in Morong, Rizal last February on suspicion of being communist rebels.

Voting 3-2, the five-member appellate court panel said it was leaving the decision to the regional trial court of Morong whether the arrest of the 43 workers was illegal and arbitrary, according to a radio dzBB report.

In the 20-page decision, the appellate court said matters concerning the February 6 arrest should just be "threshed out" in the lower court, adding that their detention "can no longer be questioned" because criminal charges had already been filed.

“Once a person is duly charged in court, he may no longer question his detention through a petition for issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be allowed after the party sought to be released had been charged before any court," the CA said in its 20-page decision.

In denying the petition, the court followed the Ilagan v. Enrile ruling by the Supreme Court in 1985 when Marcos was still dictator, where the high court declared that a petition for writ of habeas corpus becomes moot and academic once an indictment is already filed in court and a warrant of arrest or an order of commitment is issued against the person detained.

Originally composed of three members led by Associate Justices Portia Alino-Hormachuelos, the CA panel hearing the case added two more members last week to be able to arrive at a unanimous decision.

The two other justices who were members of the original panel were Normandie Pizarro and Francisco Acosta, both of whom dissented from the majority decision. The additional justices were Associate Justices Magdangal De Leon and Sesinando Villon.

Separate trial court in Rizal

The Rizal court is currently conducting a trial on the charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosive devices, as well as violation of the election gun ban, filed by the Philippine National Police against the detained workers.



On March 5, Judge Amorfina Cerrado-Cesar of the Rizal RTC-Branch 78 deferred the arraignment of the 43 workers, pending the resolution of the habeas corpus plea filed before the CA.

The 43 health workers have been detained since February 6 at Camp Capinpin, a military camp in Tanay, Rizal, east of Metro Manila, after they were arrested by around 300 police and Army troops on suspicion of being "rebel trainees" of the New People’s Army. The workers, however, maintain they were doing legitimate health skills training.

Families of the 43 have said the military has no authority to have custody over the workers since they were facing criminal charges.

Through their lawyers, the so-called Morong 43 earlier also filed before the Court of Appeals an urgent motion to transfer their detention.

AFP chief General Victor Ibrado had earlier recommended that the 43 be handed over to the police.

As this developed, the Health Alliance for Democracy staged a protest rally at 2 p.m. Wednesday in front of the appellate court building in Manila to object the decision.

Lawyers to appeal before Supreme Court

In a separate statement, the lawyers of the 43 health workers said they will appeal the CA decision before the Supreme Court (SC) within the week, saying it was based on an “outdated" ruling issued during Marcos' rule.

“In simply adhering to the outdated Ilagan v. Enrile, a notorious martial law doctrine, the Court of Appeals seriously disregarded the litany of blatant violations of the constitutional rights of these 43 health workers from the time that they were unlawfully arrested and the continued abuse of their basic human rights in the hands of the military," said human rights lawyer Romeo Capulong.

Capulong, who heads a panel of lawyers all coming from the Public Interest Law Center and the National Union of People’s Lawyers to defend the health workers, added that CA should revisit the said doctrine handed down during the Marcos dictatorship and which has legalized abuses committed by the military, he added.

The human rights lawyer cited a previous SC decision encouraging courts that are hearing habeas corpus petitions to inquire into every aspect of a person’s detention starting from the arrest.

Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan — which had been supportive of the Morong 43 — added they were "not losing hope," given that the 3-2 CA vote was "a close decision."

“It was a close decision… The Ilagan doctrine adhered to by [by the CA] simply says that what was once illegal could be legalized simply by the filing of information. This sets a dangerous precedent since other illegal arrests can be done by the [military and police], and that these can be ‘legalized’ once the information has been filed against the detainees," Reyes added.

The detained 43’s lawyers and other groups interested in the case are preparing for the March 18 hearing set by the Commission on Human Rights, where the health workers are expected to be presented. The commission also summoned military, police and Department of Justice officials, as well as the judge who issued the search warrant leading to the workers’ arrest. (See CHR summons AFP, PNP officers involved in ‘Morong 43’ arrest) — Mark Merueñas/RSJ/JMA/JV, GMANews.TV