PROSECUTORS and anti-narcotics officials are making a mountain out of a molehill by going public on the bungled drug charges in Bukidnon, a judge handling the case said Tuesday.
Josefina Bacal, executive judge of a Malaybalay City-based regional court, blamed the release of two suspects charged in non-bailable drug cases on a simple misunderstanding that she said was compounded by a prosecutor’ lapses.
She said she was taken aback when officials of the Office of Regional State Prosecutor (ORSP) and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) came out in the media last week and accused her of irregularity.
The misunderstanding, Bacal said, could have simply been remedied by asking the court to reconsider the decision that granted the suspects bail.
In a press conference Thursday, Regional State Prosecutor Jaime Umpa and PDEA-Northern Mindanao Director Gilberto Abanto Jr. announced the filing of administrative complaint for “gross ignorance of the law” against Bacal for granting drug suspects Alice Canque and Leonilo Carreon bail.
Canque and Carreon were nabbed early this month in a drug buy-bust in Valencia City. They were not qualified to post bail because the amount of alleged sachets of “shabu” (methamphetamine hydrochloride) confiscated from them surpassed the threshold provided under the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (Republic Act 9165).
But Bacal insisted that her ruling was within the bounds of the law -- at least based on what she knew when the counsel of the suspects, Paul Vincent Villegas, filed the motion to bail.
“There was a hearing prior to the granting of the motion. I even asked Fiscal Giovanni Alfred Navarro (assistant provincial prosecutor of Bukidnon province) to comment on the motion. Fiscal Navarro merely said there was no case filed yet,” the magistrate told Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro in a phone interview.
Bacal also insisted that she could have set aside her ruling had Navarro opposed it, moved for “verification as to the status of the case,” or at least informed her that the case was non-bailable.
“But how do I know the nature of the case when the fiscal did not oppose the order and did not even inform me about the case? I was only acting on the motion,” the magistrate said.
Under the general rule, she said no accused should be detained pending preliminary investigation.
She added: “The motion was urgent, so I have to act on it. Basta motion to bail dili ko kabalibad, especially nga wala pay kaso unya naka-detain ang mga accused.”
When asked on her thoughts on the suspects having been mistakenly freed, the magistrate retorted: “Problema na kana sa polis ang pagdakop through warrant of arrest.”
Bacal said she was ready to face any administrative complaint against her.
“Let them file the case,” she said.
Abanto had earlier expressed disappointment over the release of the suspects, saying they have a “strong case” against the accused.
Canque and Carreon, he said, were in PDEA’s “target list” of notorious drug pushers since 1997.
Umpa, meanwhile, found the judge’s action to be “highly irregular.”
“This is the first time that we experience such incident, and it’s very surprising for a judge to easily release the accused with a mere motion, which for all intents and purposes cannot be granted simply because the case had not been filed yet,” the regional prosecutor said.
Prosecutor Navarro, for his part, said he did not issue a comment on the suspects’ motion to post bail because "I don’t have the authority over the case, especially that it wasn’t filed yet in court.
Out of Northern Mindanao’s 1,350 resolved drug cases in 2009, 362 or 27 percent resulted in the acquittal of the accused, compared to the national rate of 7.9 percent. Twenty-five percent or 333 drug cases, meanwhile, were dismissed by the courts, record from the Dangerous Drugs Board show.
Earlier, DDB said at least six local officials in Northern Mindanao are being suspected for their links to illegal drugs. Oaminal said the six officials are likely getting funds from drug lords to finance their respective campaigns, and that their involvement in illicit narcotics varies.
In its 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Northern Mindanao was named, alongside Cebu and Manila, as one of the most illegal drug-hit areas in the Philippines.