THERE is some uproar over the arrest Thursday (Aug. 16) of three young lawyers, one of them a Cebu law school grad and their law firm boss related to former ombudsman Aniano Desierto from Cebu. The lawyers represented the owner of a Makati bar suspected of selling illegal “party drugs.”
Supporters of the lawyers decry alleged police excess; people cheering for the drug war flog alleged arrogance of lawyers. Each camp is not completely inaccurate.
The lawyers were released on prosecutors’ order the following day, Friday at 8 p.m. (Aug. 17), but not before they underwent the ordeal of arrest, including presumably being cuffed, read of their rights and hauled to the police station. They were charged with four complaints: 1) obstruction of justice, 2) resistance and disobedience, 3) “constructive possession” of illegal drugs; and 4) crossing a police line.
At most, they were on the fringe of violating the police line but even that may be defended as without malice. They were lawyers who had the right under the law to be present at the inventory.
Obstruction of justice? No, the lawyers didn’t come close to violating any of the acts listed as obstruction to justice under Presidential Decree 1829 of Jan. 16, 1981. Check out the enumerated offenses under the law. As to resisting arrest, the video shows no overt act of disobedience, maybe just exuberance.
And most likely they were not guilty of constructive illegal possession of drugs, a weird name for a complaint. The lawyers had no control over “Time in Manila” bar. Holding them responsible for the contraband in it would be a bit of a stretch.
A client’s alleged crime cannot spill over to the lawyers who merely witnessed the police search and inventory.
To determine liability, one may divide the incident into two phases: first, the alleged intrusion or crossing of the police line; second, the offenses the lawyers allegedly committed once they got into the bar.
The video clip shows that the lawyers took a long time to answer the “simple question” of who their client was. The lawyers were being overly protective of their client. The police, endowed with the power of life and death by the drug war era, are more sensitive than ever.
But consider: it was basic for the police to demand identification and authorization. We’re the police, you’re the lawyers but who is your client and how do we we know your client hired you? That stuff.
Battery of lawyers
And incidentally, the law (Sec. 21 of Republic Act 9165, or Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002) requires the suspect or his representative, along with other reps from DOJ and media and an elected public official, to witness the inventory. One, not a battery of lawyers.
It was only after the repeated threat of arresting them for “obstruction of justice” that the “compañeros” from Desierto & Desierto law office named a certain “Server” as the owner. That was lawyer strategy but apparently over-stretched. And what followed was no joke.
What could’ve been done
Police could’ve just shooed the lawyers from the bar when they refused to identify their client and show proof he authorized them. Playing the “obstruction” card was their own display of arrogance, just as annoying as the lawyers’ delay in justifying their presence.
They could’ve just limited the lawyers to watching and recording. Arresting them was taking it too far, adding a touch of fascism to a plain police function.
One wonders how things have come to this: the excess in the zeal of law enforcers that often resulted in loss of lives and stomping on rights of citizens.
Each camp has its own ammunition to fire at the other. Those who wage the battle against illegal drugs, justifying abuse by the “validity” of their cause. And those who worry over citizens’ rights, assailing the use of despotic methods.
“Three lawyers walked into a bar... They later came out with hands cuffed and spirits crushed.” Not funny.