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‘Morong 43’ lawyers appeal CA’s junking of habeas corpus plea

March 11, 2010 11:51pm

Saying the Court of Appeals decision was based on an “outdated martial law doctrine", lawyers of the so-called Morong 43 on Thursday asked the appellate court to reconsider its ruling that junked the detainees’ petition for writ of habeas corpus.

The CA on Wednesday cited the 1985 Supreme Court ruling Ilagan vs Enrile when it decided to relegate to a court in Morong, Rizal the decision whether to declare the February 6 arrest of the 43 health workers as illegal and arbitrary.

Based on what has come to be known as the Ilagan doctrine, a petition for the writ of habeas corpus becomes "moot and academic" once an information or indictment is filed in court and a warrant of arrest or order of commitment is issued against a detained person.

Combined police and Army elements arrested the 43 individuals in Morong town on February 6 during what was claimed to be a training session on making bombs for the New People’s Army. The workers, however, maintain they were undergoing health skills training.

On February 11, two days after they filed petitions for habeas corpus, 40 workers were charged before the Morong Regional Trial Court with illegal possession of explosives, while the remaining three were charged with illegal possession of firearms

‘Revisit Ilagan doctrine’

"We are asking for the Ilagan v. Enrile doctrine to be revisited. It should not have been followed, especially in the case of these 43 health workers," said lawyer Romeo Capulong, lead counsel for the 43 workers.

The detained workers branded the Ilagan doctrine as a "notorious" tool that the military had used in the past to justify illegal arrests and detentions.

“In simply adhering to the outdated Ilagan v. Enrile, a notorious martial law doctrine, the Court of Appeals seriously disregarded the litany of blatant violations of the constitutional rights of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," Capulong said.

Relatives of the Morong 43 questioned the arrest of the group, saying it was by virtue of a "defective" warrant of arrest. They said the person identified in the arrest warrant was not even among the collared workers.

Lawyers of the Morong 43 also claimed that the health workers were physically and mentally tortured while detained at Camp Capinpin, the main base of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division located in Tanay, Rizal. The military has denied the accusation.

The CA is set to transmit the appeal to the Supreme Court (SC), which will ultimately decide whether to reverse or uphold the appellate court’s junking of the workers’ petition.

Dissenting opinion

In the dissenting opinion of Associate Justice Francisco Acosta, member of the five-person panel that ruled on the petition, he said the CA should still inquire into the legality of all aspects of the workers’ detention regardless of the filing of charges.

The CA is “duty bound not to take on its face the fact that informations have been filed against the detainees, and consider them as a cure to whatever violations the law enforcers may have committed against the basic constitutional rights of the detainees," he added.

Associate Justice Normandie Pizarro likewise said in another dissenting opinion that the search, seizure and arrest made by police and military officials are “illegal" and “irregular", and charges arising from them cannot be considered valid.

While saying the Commission on Human Rights does not want to preempt the SC’s final decision on the appeal, chair Leila De Lima agreed that the cited doctrine should be reviewed, especially in light of our “growing awareness and appreciation for human rights".

“While it is true that courts must adhere to judicial precedents, the same courts are capable of overturning themselves if the current circumstances dictate a change," she said in a statement.

De Lima added the CA decision will not affect the commission’s own inquiry on the case of the 43 workers.

The CHR has set on March 18 its first public hearing where military, police and Department of Justice officials, as well as the judge who issued the search warrant leading to the workers’ arrests, have been summoned. The detained workers are also expected to be presented.—with Jerrie M. Abella/JV, GMANews.TV
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