Arson case vs filmmaker, pals gets DOJ attention as kin cry foul
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has ordered the provincial prosecutor of Quezon to ensure that “justice is dispensed appropriately and expeditiously” in the case of filmmaker Jade Castro and his three friends, who have been arrested without a warrant for allegedly torching a passenger minibus.
The order came as their lawyers and families questioned their detention on charges of arson, doubting the testimonies police had used to place them at the crime scene.
Remulla issued the directive through the National Prosecution Service. On Friday, Justice Assistant Secretary Jose Dominic Clavano said “the respondents have already waived their rights under Article 125 of the [Revised Penal Code, or RPC] in order to submit a counteraffidavit where the prosecutor will evaluate their defenses.”
Under the RPC provision he cited, in cases of arbitrary detention, a public officer could face a penalty for arresting a person but failing to deliver them to proper judicial authorities within a maximum of 36 hours for grave crimes.
“In every case, the person detained shall be informed of the cause of his detention and shall be allowed, upon his request, to communicate and confer at any time with his attorney or counsel,” it said.
Police alleged that Castro and his companions were identified by witnesses—mainly the minibus driver and passengers—as the armed group who set the vehicle on fire around 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 31 at Barangay Dahican in Catanauan, Quezon.
They were arrested without a warrant on Feb. 1 at a beach resort in the neighboring town of Mulanay, and were still in detention as of Friday.
‘Crooked law enforcement’
Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno visited Castro and his companions—Ernesto Orcine, Noel Mariano and Dominic Ramos—on Saturday at the Catanauan municipal police station.
“Based on what we gathered, they became victims of crooked law enforcement,” Diokno later said in a post on X (formerly Twitter).
Citing Supreme Court jurisprudence, Diokno said the police had no legitimate reason to arrest the four men as they were not caught in the act of committing a crime, there was no legitimate hot pursuit operation and they did not escape from custody.
“According to the [Department of Justice, or DOJ] itself, the primary duty of the inquest prosecutor is to find out if the warrantless arrest is legal; and if it is illegal, it is recommended that those arrested be released immediately. But from what I saw, the inquest prosecutor did not do this,” Diokno said.
No evidence or motive
He called on the authorities to investigate the case more thoroughly, release the detainees and hold those behind the “great injustice” accountable.
In a joint statement on Thursday, the families of the four detainees demanded a fair and transparent investigation, insisting on their innocence.
“We, the families of Jade, Noel, Ernesto and Dominic, demand a transparent and fair investigation,” they said in a post on the Facebook page “Free Jade Castro Now.”
“We refuse to give up hope that the truth will prevail and set Jade, Noel, Ernesto and Dominic free,” the families said.
Like Diokno, they said the four were arrested without due process and with “no evidence” linking them to the burning of the vehicle.
“[There was] no motive as well to connect them to the jeep burning incident and yet the four continue to be detained. This is unbelievable, to say the least,” they stressed.
It was also “unjust, unlawful and inhumane” for the police to release their mugshots to the media, along with a statement declaring the case “solved” before the completion of the investigation.
Acting on a tip
According to the families, a team of police officers “acting on a tip” went to the Mulanay resort initially to rule the four men out as suspects in the incident.
“After questioning the four, the policemen left,” they said.
“More than six hours later, Jade, Noel, Ernesto and Dominic were invited by the same police officers to the police station to answer more questions. They voluntarily went with the police and have since been detained.”
On Feb. 2, Castro posted a message in Filipino on his X account: “WE ARE INNOCENT! We are just vacationing in Mulanay, Quezon, but we were arrested for a crime that happened in Catanauan.”
Mulanay public information officer Gelo Amisola also came out to defend the four detainees, saying that at the time the minibus was on fire, he and another municipal official were talking with two of the detainees at an eatery in Mulanay.
Not at crime scene
“We were having a chat around 7:30 or 7:40 p.m. They were in Mulanay to witness the festival for the town fiesta,” Amisola said in a phone interview on Feb. 3.
Amisola said he and Joelda Tadeja, Mulanay public order and safety officer, had executed sworn statements to help the four detainees in their defense.
A case for arson has been filed against them before a court in Catanauan.
Earlier, in a TV interview on Wednesday, another lawyer for Castro’s group, Michael Marpuri, said “it’s impossible for them to be at the crime scene because they cannot be at two places at the same time.”
Another defense lawyer, Blanchie Baticulon, said he found inconsistencies in the witnesses’ accounts, particularly on the statement that the four men were armed.
But the police didn’t find any firearm in their possession, Baticulon added.