Court orders release of red-tagged community doctor accused of kidnapping

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Court orders release of red-tagged community doctor accused of kidnapping
In this undated photo shows Dr. Ma. Natividad Castro.
Facebook / Jun Castro

MANILA, Philippines — A local court has ordered the release of community doctor Maria Natividad “Naty” Castro, who was detained for more than a month in Agusan del Sur.

The Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur Regional Trial Court Branch 7 dismissed the kidnaping and serious illegal detention case against Castro on the following grounds:

  • Denial of her substantive right to due process
  • Lack of jurisdiction over the person of the accused

Acting Presiding Judge Fernando Fudalan Jr. then ordered the custodian of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology to release Castro from detention unless other cases are pending.

According to her lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group, Castro was taken from her home in San Juan on February 18, denied access to family or counsel and flown to Agusan del Sur without notifying them.

Since the arrest happened on a weekend, it also took days for her legal counsels to get more details on the charges the community doctor was accused of. 

Castro, through her lawyers, filed a Motion to Dismiss for Want of Preliminary Investigation. She said the investigating prosecutor failed to follow fundamental law and witnesses’ affidavits are bereft of her supposed participation—even her name was not in the complaint-affidavit, affidavit of witnesses and other documents except in the Supplemental Affidavit and Information.

No subpoena

In resolving the motion, the court noted that no subpoena was attached to the Information or charge sheet. There was also no record that she was subpoenaed in her Manila address.

“This factual finding confirmed the accused’ submission that she was deprived of the opportunity to participate in the preliminary investigation before the Prosecutor’s Office of Agusan del Sur,” the resolution read.

The court stressed that the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure stated that it does not allow non-issuance of subpoena in preliminary investigation where the address of the respondent is unknown.

“Issuance of subpoena directing the respondent to submit evidence is the most important aspect of the preliminary investigation that safeguards the right to due process. No amount of due reason, like what the prosecution raised that respondent is [a member of New People’s Army] and have no permanent address, would ever justify its non-issuance.

Re-assessment of preliminary investigation

The court also took a second look at the records of the preliminary investigation and make an independent study in the determination of probable cause, which is the basis for the issuance of a warrant.

“Going to the process of re-assessment and upon painstaking review of the records of preliminary investigation, the court obtained essential facts which are deemed sufficient basis for reconsideration,” it said.

The court held that the original and supplemental complaint-affidavit and affidavit of witnesses are deficient in establishing the accused’s participation, and the name of Castro appeared to have simply been added without corresponding additional allegations.

The victim’s identification of the named respondent was also not attached to the Information submitted to the court, it added.

“In light of the aforesaid factual findings gathered upon re-assessment, the court finds that probable cause does not exist in the absence of evidence to prove the identity of the accused and so holds to overturn the previous findings of probable cause,” the court said.

“Without probable cause, the court did not acquire jurisdiction over the accused which warrants the dismissal of the case,” it also said.

FLAG: PNP must be held accountable

Castro’s legal counsels from FLAG welcomed her return to her family after the case has been dismissed, but they raised: “[W]e remain deeply concerned with the manner by which Dr. Naty was seized from her home and transported incommunicado without assistance of counsel and support from her family.” 

The lawyer’s group said this is a violation of her rights and existing laws, which the Philippine National Police must be held accountable. They also noted the continuous red-tagging of the community doctor.

“The dismissal of Dr. Naty’s case for failure to accord her due process should shine a light on existing practices during preliminary investigation by the Department of Justice and the issuance of warrants by the trial courts. It should also call attention to extrajudicial efforts to influence the courts by government agents through red-tagging,” they added. 

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