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SC upholds dismissal of Lacson's Kuratong Baleleng case

The Supreme Court has upheld the ruling of a Quezon City court clearing former Philippine National Police chief and incumbent Sen. Panfilo Lacson of murder charges in relation to the Kuratong Baleleng rubout case. The Supreme Court, in a November 13 decision, said it agreed with Judge Ma. Theresa Yadao of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 81 when she dismissed the murder case on November 12, 2003 because documentary records, including affidavits of the policemen-witnesses, failed to establish probable cause against Lacson and other police officials implicated in the case. The local court noted that the police officers who stood as witnesses "took no part in the operations against the Kuratong Baleleng Gang members." Lacson happy At the Senate, Lacson said he was "happy an drelieved" over the Supreme Court decision. "Happy and relieved, not just for myself but for all my former men in the defunct Task Force Habagat and the other units involved in that operation including former Senior Superintendent [Cezar] Mancao II," Lacson told reporters in a text message. Task Force Habagat was the PNP unit involved in the case, while Mancao was one of Lacson's co-accused. In its decision penned by Associate Justice Roberto Abad, the Supreme Court upheld the Quezon City court's observation that witness Senior Inspector Abelardo Ramos issued conflicting statements before the trial court and the Office of the Ombudsman, which originally heard the case before it got transfered to the Quezon City RTC Branch 81. In his testimony before the Ombudsman, Ramos said he was not present during the arrest of Kuratong Baleleng gang members in Parañaque City and the succeeding shootout in Quezon City. He said he was in Bulacan on the day of the shooting and was at his home the following day. In his separate testimony with the Quezon City court, however, Ramos reversed his story and said he belonged to the team that both arrested and "executed the plan to gun down" the Kuratong Baleleng gang members. "The Court cannot be less skeptical than Judge Yadao was in doubting the sudden reversal after six years of testimony of these witnesses," the high court said. Judicial heirarchy The Supreme Court also noted how the prosecution "skipped" the Court of Appeals when it directly filed its petition for certiorari with the high court to question Judge Yadao's dismissal. "[The prosecution] ignored the principle of judicial hierarchy of courts...  Although the Supreme Court, the CA, and the RTCs have concurrent jurisdiction to issue a writ of certiorari, such concurrence does not give the People the unrestricted freedom of choice of forum," the Supreme Court said. The court, however, said it has decided to waive such "procedural lapses" given the "immense public interest" and the "considerable length of time" the case has taken since the crime happened. "In the absence of probable cause to indict respondents for the crime of multiple murder, they should be insulated from the tribulations, expenses and anxiety of a public trial," the Supreme Court stressed. The high court magistrates unanimously voted in favor of the Quezon City judge's dismissal of the case, with the exception of Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who took no participation. The case involved the supposed "shootout" between police authorities and members of the Kuratong Baleleng crime syndicate on May 17, 1995 along Commonwealth Avenue. Relatives of the victims claimed the incident was a "rubout." The suspected gang members were apprehended inside their supposed "safe house" at Superville Subdivision in Parañaque City on May 17, 1995. The following day, the suspect were brought to Camp Crame in Quezon City, before being brought to Commonwealth where the alleged shootout happened. Lacson at that time was a police chief superintendent and head of Task Force Habagat, one of the police units involved in the case. — with Kimberly Jane Tan/KBK, GMA News