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Deconstructing the SC order

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(BY: VICENTE R. SOLIS) A resolution issued by the Supreme Court dated August 5, 2014 in A.M. No. 13-10-223-RTC [“Request for Transfer of Venue of Cases against Suspected Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Rebels in the Attempt to Take Over Zamboanga City”] but made public only recently, raised a hefty mass of public protest and indignation last week following speculations that the high tribunal’s directive could provide legal basis for the more than 200 suspected MNLF rebels who had laid siege on the city barely a year ago to return from their incarceration  at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig.

We all recall that, upon petition of the local government based on the overwhelming concurrence of the community to transfer the trial venue or location of the accused, the Supreme Court ordered such transfer to Taguig in October 2013 and later to Pasig in April, this year.

The outpouring of public outrage over the prospect of the return of the accused is understandable, and the vigorous objection evinced by the local government laudable.

But, let’s take a short pause, set aside speculations, bring down the decibel of our public conversation, and clinically examine the text and intent of this en banc resolution.

As I explained on Capitan Jimmy Villaflores’ Radio Agong program last Wednesday morning, it is not the intent of the high court to provide the equivalent of a travel order to the accused who are facing charges for rebellion under our penal code and RA 9851 (“An Act on Crimes against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and other Crimes against Humanity”). The Supreme Court resolution is intended merely to facilitate “the reception of evidence for the prosecution and their witnesses who are residing in Zamboanga City and in the nearby provinces.” (par. 2 of resolution) and likewise, “for the reception of evidence for the witnesses of the accused who are in Zamboanga City and in the nearby provinces.” (par. 4 of resolution).  It bears emphasis that the latter paragraph of the resolution speaks of “witnesses for the accused”, and not the accused themselves. According to the same resolution, the reception of evidence will be conducted at the sala of Executive Judge Gregorio Dela Peña, who presides over branch 12 of the regional trial court (RTC) at Pettit Barracks. 

However, for the arraignment of the accused (where the charges are read and pleas entered) and pre-trial (a mandatory process before trial begins), they shall be conducted “inside the premises of Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City” before RTC Pasig Judge Rowena M. San Pedro (par. 1 of resolution). The same court is mandated to receive the testimonies of the accused and conduct proceedings “whenever their (accused) presence at the trial is deemed indispensable” (par. 3 of resolution). What is abundantly made clear by these provisions of the Supreme Court resolution is that the accused will not be returned to Zamboanga City for purposes of  (1) arraignment,  (2) pre-trial, and (3) testifying in their own behalf. Additionally, and significantly, when their presence at any stage of the trial is absolutely required (indispensable), the accused will not be returned to the city, but that the corresponding proceedings will be conducted by the Pasig RTC.

But, then, there is the issue on the rights of the accused, as enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution [Sec. 14 (2), Art. III] and provided in the rules on criminal procedure (Rule 115), which relevantly guarantee the right to be present at every stage of the  proceedings, from arraignment to promulgation of judgment; the right to defend their persons, by themselves or thru counsel; and the right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against them. If the suspected MNLF rebels raise these Constitutional and procedural guarantees, and using this legal platform insist that they be returned to Zamboanga City so they could be present at the sala of Judge Dela Peña during the presentation of their witnesses and those of the prosecution, and further, so they could confront the witnesses of the prosecution “face to face” (the exact term written in the Constitution), wouldn’t this go against the grain and intent of the resolution and pave the way for the return of the accused?  My answer is “No”, because paragraph 3 of the resolution designates the Pasig regional trial court as venue “whenever their (accused) presence at the trial is deemed indispensable.” Hence, if the presence of the accused during the authorized proceedings in Zamboanga City is insisted upon and there is a determination that such presence is “indispensable”, then these proceedings will be conducted before Judge San Pedro of the Pasig RTC and not before Judge Dela Peña of our city’s RTC.

The high court’s resolution obviously takes into account the physical distance between Zamboanga City and Pasig or Taguig and the high costs involved in the travel of the witnesses (for both the prosecution and defense) who are residing in the city and nearby areas and their stay in Metro Manila. At the same time, it considers the continuing and robust objection on the part of our community on the accused setting foot in the city after the havoc and ruin they had caused one year ago.

OTRAS COSAS

Last August 18 I wrote that “the son (referring to incumbent President Aquino) will carry on the legacy of the mother (referring to the late President Cory Aquino)” in not seeking a second Presidential term. This assessment was (for all intents and purposes) confirmed by the President in a recent interview in Manila with Radyo Bombo. P-Noy is not running for re-election. ....... If Celso forsakes a second term in Congress and runs against Beng for mayor in 2016, that would leave a vacuum in the city’s first legislative district which could possibly be filled up by hotelier and educator Monsi dela Cruz. After three successive unsuccessful attempts (for Mayor, Vice Mayor, and Congressman), 2016 might be Monsi’s year. ....... The nascent E-Media organization headed by veteran broadcaster Rey Bayogin is changing the broadcast landscape in the city, reminiscent of  the pioneering days of the First United Broadcasting Corporation (FUBC) where Erbie Fabian eventually emerged to become councilor, vice mayor, mayor, and congressman.  Erbie will make a dominant candidate for vice mayor under any political group he chooses in the coming election. (PO Box 333, Zamboanga City, solislaw@outlook.ph)




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