OSG misses Castro, Tamano preliminary conference due to 'sheer number of documents'

Ian Laqui - Philstar.com
OSG misses Castro, Tamano preliminary conference due to 'sheer number of documents'
This photo shows the logo of the Office of the Solicitor General.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) failed to appear before the Court of Appeals (CA) for the preliminary conference of the issuance of writ of amparo and habeas data for abducted environmental activists Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro.

The preliminary conference for the issuance of the protection writs took place on Monday, running from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

In an urgent motion filed by the OSG on Monday, it said that its lawyers were unable to attend the preliminary conference due to the “sheer number of documents”  that it receives every day.

“Due to the sheer volume of documents it regularly receives on a daily basis, the OSG-DMS was able to process the transmittal of the Resolution on 18 March 2024, around 12:33 p.m., and to transmit the same to the handling division around 12:40 p.m. of the same day. Thus, Respondents and the OSG handling lawyers were unable to attend the scheduled initial preliminary conference,” the OSG’s motion read.

The OSG likewise apologized for the non-appearance.

In a separate motion, the legal counsel of Tamano and Castro said that this move by the OSG is an act of “disrespect” to the court and “compromises” the green activists' right to speedy trial.

“Verily, the non-attendance of Respondents and the OSG, apart from being disrespectful to this Honorable Court, actually compromises the right of the Petitioners to a speedy trial. Indeed a) the facts could have been stipulated; issues streamlined; c) witnesses properly identified; d) trial dates could have been properly set with the agreement of the parties, had Respondents attended the preliminary conference,” the activists’ petition read.

“Likewise, it bears noting that Respondents has a penchant for delaying the proceedings of this case which can be inferred from their dilatory motion, i.e. Very Urgent Manifestation and Motion dated 20 February 2024, wherein they pray that the proceedings be suspended for frivolous reasons,” it added. 

It could also be recalled that the OSG asked the Supreme Court (SC) on February 21 to “review and recall” the protection orders for the two environmental defenders. 

The green activists’ counsel also pointed out that the OSG sent 30 of their lawyers to work on the last hearing but not a single one attended the preliminary conference.

A preliminary conference is a meeting between the two parties before a trial, typically presided over by a judge. During the conference, a stipulation of facts will be conducted.

In response to the OSG’s and the respondent’s non-appearance, Tamano and Castro's legal team requested the appellate court for an ex-parte presentation of evidence. 

They also urged the Court of Appeals to demand an explanation from the OSG and the respondents regarding their non-appearance, potentially leading to a citation for contempt.

“The Supreme Court has always emphasized in several jurisprudence that pre-trial and its governing rules are not technicalities which the parties may ignore or trifle with. It is essential in the simplification and the speedy disposition of disputes. Thus, it is in the spirit of the rules and jurisprudence to allow Petitioners to present their evidence ex parte considering the non-attendance of Respondents or their counsel during such a critical stage of trial,” Castro and Tamano camp’s motion read.

On February 15, the SC granted writs of amparo and habeas data along with a temporary protection order to Tamano and Castro as“there was an established violation to the life, liberty, or security” present.

The CA was then directed by the SC to facilitate a summary hearing addressing the relief sought by the pair.

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