Appeal vs. “Alabang Boys”, an uphill battle – DOJ chief

By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) Updated September 03, 2011 12:00 AM 

MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Leila de Lima admitted yesterday that the decision to appeal the acquittal of two of the three “Alabang boys’” by the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court is an “uphill move.”

“We feel it’s worth filing a motion for reconsideration, worth taking that remedy – although it’s an uphill thing because it’s not allowed in the general rule,” she told reporters.

Richard Brodett and Jorge Joseph, who were arrested by agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in Ayala Alabang Village in 2008, were acquitted by Muntinlupa Judge Juanita Guerrero of drug trafficking charges for lack of evidence.

Asked about the chances of the lower court reconsidering its decision, De Lima replied: “Let’s just wait and see.”

Under the double jeopardy rule in the Constitution, an accused acquitted by the court can no longer be tried for the same crime.

The only exemption so far to this rule was the case of the members of the defunct Aviation Security Command tagged in the assassination of the late Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. on Aug. 21, 1983.

De Lima moved to challenge the rule after a closed-door meeting with the prosecution panel handling the case and former PDEA chief Dionisio Santiago and Maj. Ferdinand Marcelino, leader of the team responsible for arresting Brodett, Joseph and another accused Joseph Tecson.

“We cannot just accept what we believe is an error committed by the judge just because there’s this double jeopardy rule. Remember that the acquittal was not because they (Brodett and Joseph) are innocent,” she stressed.

The justice chief lamented how the judge went “over technical” in focusing on the issue of chain of custody of evidence.

De Lima said they would argue that there was no break in the chain of custody of evidence, contrary to the findings of the court.

“The judge made a lot of fuss about the press conference held by Gen. Santiago and Maj. Marcelino. The forensic chemist clearly explained this issue twice during trial – that what was presented during the press con was representative samples only, which is allowed in the law,” she explained.

The DOJ chief earlier said that they would question how the court made a complete turnaround on the handling of the evidence seized by the PDEA from Brodett and Joseph.

She also cited an earlier ruling of the court junking the motion to post bail filed by the accused, where Judge Guerrero even found “the evidence as strong to warrant the conviction of the accused.”

“To warrant a conviction, it’s practically saying already the guilt is beyond reasonable doubt,” she stressed.

Meanwhile, PDEA Director General Undersecretary Jose Gutierrez Jr. yesterday welcomed the DOJ plan to appeal the acquittal of Brodett and Joseph.

“It’s a positive development,’” Gutierrez said.

He said the sudden turn of events helped lift the morale of drug enforcement officers who risk their lives every time they conduct anti-drug operations.

He thanked the DOJ for supporting the anti-drug campaign.

The court said the arrest of the two high-profile suspects was valid but noted that the chain of custody of evidence had been broken, resulting in the acquittal of the accused.

Gutierrez said that the PDEA would extend to the DOJ all necessary assistance in filing a motion for reconsideration. – With Reinir Padua

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