CA releases 4 foreigners ‘rescued’ from Pogo hub
MANILA, Philippines — The Court of Appeals has granted the habeas corpus petition of four foreigners who were among the more than 2,000 individuals “rescued” during a raid on a Philippine offshore gaming operator (Pogo) hub in Las Piñas City in June.
The appellate court’s Tenth Division granted the petition of Ang Chin Keong, Choo Jun Cheng, Choo Wei Jazz, and a certain “Edy” and ordered the Philippine National Police to release them from custody “unless there are other lawful causes warranting their continuing restraint.”
Among those who were named respondents in the petition were National Capital Region Police Office Director Police Brig. Gen. Jose Melencio Nartatez Jr., and PNP-Anti Cybercrime Group Director Brig. Gen. Sidney Hernia.
A writ of habeas corpus is a judicial remedy that orders anyone, including a government official or agency, who has custody of a person to produce him or her in court and to explain the legal basis for depriving that person of liberty.
“[W]e are satisfied that they are unlawfully restrained. The totality of the circumstances show that Keong, et al, were unlawfully restrained,” the CA said in a decision penned by Associate Justice Rex Bernardo Pascual and concurred with by Associate Justices Myra Garcia-Fernandez and Tita Marilyn Payoyo-Villordon.
But the CA said that its finding of some irregularities during the June 27 human trafficking operation “is made only in so far as supporting our declaration that the purported protective custody in this case is not a sanctioned process to lawfully restrain Keong, et al.”
“We are not making any pronouncement on the validity of said law enforcement operation. Neither are we saying that a legitimate law enforcement operation, including a valid temporary custody effected therein is beyond the reach of habeas corpus,” the appellate court explained.
More than 2,500 others
The four foreigners were among more than 2,700 individuals, including Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesians, Malaysians, among others, who were “rescued” by the PNP on June 27.
Most of the Filipino workers rescued during the operation have already been released by the authorities, but the foreigners were held in “protective custody.”
But Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla earlier slammed the PNP apparently for conducting human trafficking operations despite an apparent lack of evidence and without coordination with the Department of Justice.
In filing the habeas corpus plea, the four foreigners, through their lawyer Jocel Isidro Dilag, said they were detained in their respective rooms against their will.
The appellate court sided with the petitioners and held that “no judicial process was presented to the Court by the PNP to allow for the continued detention of Keong et al.”
It also declared that while a search warrant may have precipitated the detention of the petitioners, the PNP return dated July 7, 2023, nor its memorandum dated July 20, 2023, did not even mention any search warrant.
“As a matter of fact, the PNP seems to be oblivious of the search warrants, as a possible justification in what triggered their custody over Keong, et al,” the CA said, adding that “there is no process which will support the continued detention or custody of Keong et al.”