Appeals court reverses ruling, orders gov't to submit data on Leyte rep's inclusion on 'narco list'

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Appeals court reverses ruling, orders gov't to submit data on Leyte rep's inclusion on 'narco list'
A photo of the Court of Appeals in Ermita, Manila.
The STAR, File

MANILA, Philippines — The Court of Appeals reversed its earlier ruling on Rep. Vicente Veloso (3rd District, Leyte)’s petition over his inclusion on the government’s “narco list” and directed government to produce information on the lawmaker they gathered over his supposed link to the illegal drug trade.  

In a 42-page order made public Tuesday, CA’s Former Special Eighth Division ordered law enforcement agencies to produce and submit data and information regarding Veloso over his inclusion on the “narco list.” It set aside its earlier decision that remanded the petition to the Office of Ombudsman where an administrative complaint was filed against Veloso over his supposed links to the illegal drug trade.

“The Court’s earlier decision to remand is set aside. The respondents are directed to produce and submit directly to the Court all data, information, documents or records, duly sealed, regarding the person of the petitioner that have to do with the information collection efforts and actions undertaken that led to his inclusion [on] the narco list, within 15 days from receipt of notice,” the ruling read.

The CA's reversal of part of its earlier ruling comes amid mounting scrutiny over court writs and as the Supreme Court promised a review on the rules on the writ of Amparo or the protection writ.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency and the Department of the Interior and Local Government are named as respondents in the Veloso’s petition.

‘Stale’ case at the Ombudsman

Veloso sought the court to order the deletion, destruction and/or rectification of data, files and information concerning the March 14, 2019 narco list in the possession of the law enforcers and enjoin them from further violating his right to privacy in life, liberty and security.

Veloso was included on list of officials supposedly protecting Kerwin Espinosa, an alleged drug trafficker. Police said Espinosa's father Roland, former mayor of Albuera in Leyte, had prepared the list. The elder Espinosa was killed in a supposed shootout during a search of his cell in November 2016. 

In a ruling in November 2019, the CA said that due to the pendency of the case at the Ombudsman, it is barred from direct intervention. 

But in its latest ruling, the appeals court said: “As moved by both parties, and considering the great importance of the case, the significance of the issues raised, the need for certainty and celerity in disposing the matters raised by the parties, and to fully address the controversies surrounding the petition, the Court will proceed to resolve the petition on its substantial merit."

The court noted that the information regarding Veloso’s inclusion on the list was never revealed to him despite demand.

While a complaint was subsequently filed before the Ombudsman, this did not include information on how data was gathered. “The one-paragraph allegation against the petitioner is bereft of any supporting affidavit,” the CA said.

The case at the Ombudsman remains stagnant too, the court noted, adding: “Neither is there avenue to verify whether or not such pieces of information were obtained legally, and to ensure accountability of the respondents’ agents who obtained such information.”

Deference to the executive branch

For their defense, the respondent government officials said they cannot disclose information since it pertains to the government’s war on drugs and are matters of national security and concerns.

Noting proceedings in the still pending Almora petition over the Oplan Tokhang and Masa Masid program at the SC, the CA noted that in the face of judicial inquiry, invoking national security will not suffice “absent substantial evidence to justify State action.”

In the high-profile Almora petition, kin of drug war victims questioned the constitutionality of the PNP’s Oplan Double Barrel and DILG’s Masa Masid project.

During the oral arguments on the petition, justices ordered Solicitor General Jose Calida to submit all documents pertaining to investigations into police anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to Nov. 30, 2017.

While Calida initially agreed to then-Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s order, the government’s chief lawyer had repeatedly appealed for the reversal of the order, citing national security.

But the SC, in a strongly worded resolution on Feb. 3, 2018, said: “The OSG’s continued refusal to submit to this Court’s requirement will lead this Court to presume that these information and documents, because they are wilfully suppressed, will be adverse to the OSG’s case.”

RELATED: Data on drug war deaths being willfully suppressed? The SC thinks so | SC tells Calida: Thousands of deaths in drug war of 'grave' public concern

The CA said that while the Almora petition did not involve a habeas data proceeding, “it reflects the predisposition of the Supreme Court when faced with actions alleging State-sanctioned violation of constitutionally-enshrined rights and the evidentiary burden faced by the State when defending its actions as being based on justifiable reasons.”

The appeals court said that while respondents perceive that their reluctance to disclose confidential information came with the notion that “’it comes with the job,’” thus must give way to lawful processes. “It cannot stand in the way of asserted constitutional rights,” the CA said.

It added: “Unabashed deference to the executive department would undermine the structural checks and balances scheme central to the constitutional separation of powers amongst the three branches of government.”

“That a man may be denied his rights at the mere whim of government, is anathema to a democracy, if the ideal that indeed freedom prevails in our land is to be upheld,” the CA also said.

“Denying judicial relief based on mere assertion that the matter involves national security and state secrets, permits, if not encourages, state agents to ignore legal norms since they expect to be free from accountability for their conduct,” the ruling also read.

Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas Jr. penned the decision, while Associate Justices Germano Francisco Legaspi and Ruben Reynaldo Roxas concurred.

vuukle comment





  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with