A fair day in court for the Arquillanos
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - April 9, 2019 - 12:00am

The arrest last Thursday of San Francisco, Camotes, Vice Mayor Alfredo “Al” Arquillano Jr. together with his brother Mayor Aly Arquillano came as a shock to me. The brothers were booked for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Criminal defense lawyers would immediately cringe when the word “explosives” is involved in the arrest of an accused because it means posting of bail becomes “a matter of discretion” rather than “a matter of right.” Let me explain this one thing a bit further before I explain my shock with VM Al Arquillano’s arrest.

Under the Constitution, a person accused of committing a crime is presumed innocent until proven otherwise by a court of law. That is why an accused is always entitled to post bail in exchange for his release from state custody pending the conclusion of his case. Bail ensures his attendance during trial.

However, in very serious criminal charges, posting of bail becomes a matter of privilege and no longer a matter of course and right. People and the media often refer to it as a “non-bailable offense,” for brevity maybe, but such term is actually misleading. All criminal charges are bailable, the only question being if posting of bail is a “matter of right” or a “matter of privilege,” the latter leaving to the court to decide if bail should be allowed.

That is why in so-called “non-bailable offenses,” a petition for bail is usually filed by the accused through his lawyer. This will be heard separate from the main trial in order to determine if evidence of guilt is strong, not yet on the issue of whether the accused is innocent or guilty. Under the law, when evidence of guilt is strong, an accused shall not be admitted to bail if charged with a capital offense or an offense punishable with reclusion perpetua.

For the Arquillanos to be charged and detained for alleged illegal possession of firearms and a grenade is a real shock to me. The charge on the grenade carries a penalty of reclusion perpetua.

This is not solely to throw doubt at the regularity of the arresting team’s performance of their duties. My shock comes from knowing up close VM Al, as we fondly call him in the local environmental and sustainability movement. He also has an international public persona as the face of successful local disaster resilience.

I personally know VM Al to be an unassuming person who speaks with modest confidence yet steadfast authority that comes from a leader who has done his job and has done it so well. His international recognition started with the prestigious United Nations Sasakawa Award for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was awarded to his municipality of San Francisco in 2011 in a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to the Official Gazette, VM Al credited the town’s “purok system” for its resiliency, “utilizing indigenous knowledge to disseminate critical information and risk assessment, waste segregation, delivery of health services, and related activities at the household level.” In the aftermath of super typhoon Yolanda in 2013, VM Al’s town, which was directly hit, became famous for having zero casualties. Credit went to the purok system he led in setting up and maintaining together with his brother Aly.

Today, despite their arrest and detention, the brothers are expected to win in the local election in their town. It is my fervent hope that even with the adverse political climate (their party, Bakud, is facing Duterte-backed candidates in the Fifth District), the brothers will also be given their fair day in court.

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