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Lawyers monitoring drug search held; IBP up in arms

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on Friday questioned the arrest of three lawyers detained by the police for allegedly interfering in the implementation of a search warrant at a bar they raided in Makati City.

The IBP announced earlier that it would be filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to secure the lawyers’ release, but Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Romel Odronia issued a release order at 7:30 last night.  Half an hour later, the lawyers left the police station.

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But they were not yet off the hook, as the lawyers have to return to the prosecutor’s office for a preliminary investigation scheduled on Aug. 28.

In a statement, IBP national president Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo described as “highly questionable the arrest and detention of lawyers Romulo Alarkon, 33,  Jan Vincent Soliven, 32, and Lenie Rocha, 25, in the course of defending a client.”

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The three lawyers of  Time Bar in Makati  were charged on Friday with constructive possession of illegal drugs under Section 11 of Republic Act No. 9165, as well as obstruction of justice, resistance and disobedience to persons of authority, and violation of the city ordinance against civilians crossing a police line.

Cops justify arrest

Under a constructive possession charge, the accused may not have physical possession of drugs, but “the charge exists when the drug is under the accused’s dominion and control, or when the accused exercises dominion and control over the place where the drug was found.”

The three lawyers were “intimidating the policemen and dominantly asking for the search warrant,” said Insp. Jeson Vigilla of the Makati Police Station Drug Enforcement Unit  in an interview.

The lawyers from the Desierto & Desierto law firm, who represent one of the bar owners, were arrested on Thursday morning after they allegedly “entered the premises of the bar, took several pictures and videos of the scene, and intimidated the members of the searching team without proper and prior coordination,” the police said.

Vigilla said he called for their arrest when the lawyers allegedly followed the police officers to the second and third floors, and started “touching objects which may tamper with the crime scene.”

The police said they had secured a search warrant from Executive Judge Elmo Alameda of the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 150, following a buy-bust-turned-raid on the bar on Saturday last week.

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The bar was being used as a drug den, the police said, adding that operatives had recovered ecstasy tablets and 18 sachets of cocaine and kush with a total street value of P1.7 million.

Diane Desierto, senior partner at the law firm, denounced the warrantless arrest, and noted that detainees charged with noncapital offense such as obstruction, should have been released within 18 hours or at 9:30 a.m. on Friday.

Prolonged detention

But Vigilla said the police could prolong the detention “up to 36 hours because it’s not just obstruction we had filed against them,” but drug charges or violation of RA 9165, a capital offense, where suspects can be detained up to 36 hours without being formally charged.

In a lengthy blog post, Desierto called out the arrest as an abuse of police authority in the country’s war on drugs.

Other lawyers’ groups also denounced the arrest, with  Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) chair Jose Manuel Diokno calling it “unlawful.”

In a statement, he added: “FLAG calls on the members of the bar and the bench, and all law-abiding citizens, to resist government’s efforts to replace law with force, and democracy with fascism. Unless we act, and act now, the freedoms that we fought so long and hard for will crumble into dust. ”

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia condemned the arrest as “not only against the so-called rule of law, but against the role of lawyers, who are officers of the court and defenders of justice. They are there to ensure that rights are protected. We are not the enemies,” he said.

Olalia said the Makati City incident was the latest of a string of alleged harassment against NUPL lawyers, who have been “maligned and demonized by drug-crazed authorities.”

‘Brutal, high-handed’

Manananggol sa EJK (Manlaban) also decried the arrest and said that “arresting, detaining and charging the lawyers, ironically, with obstruction of justice shows how police have become brutal and high-handed in their operations, especially in those involving drugs,” the group said in a statement.

The arrest of lawyers while performing their job is a “a clear disregard of the law and the independence of the legal profession,” Manlaban added.  —WITH REPORTS FROM JEROME ANING AND MELVIN  GASCON

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