Families of rich convicts say transfer to NBI violated their rights
MANILA, Philippines – The shoe is now on the other foot.
The relatives of some of the rich prisoners who were moved from the New Bilibid Prison to the National Bureau of Investigation after they were found harboring contraband decried on Monday the “blatant violation” of their loved ones’ human rights after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima forbade visits to the prisoners, even from their lawyers.
Ferdinand Topacio, counsel of convicts Noel Martinez, Willy Sy, German Agojo and Michael Ong Chan, said in a statement the relatives and friends of the four inmates had been trying to visit them since last week, “but were turned away by armed elements of the NBI, who simply said that no visitors were allowed.”
Some 20 prisoners were transferred to the NBI detention center in Manila last week from their luxurious quarters at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.
A raid at the NBP conducted by De Lima and NBI agents uncovered the VIP treatment being accorded rich and prominent convicts, with some of whom found to be continuing their illegal activities behind bars.
De Lima had said that a court order was not needed to transfer the convicts to the NBI since they had lost their civil and political rights and were under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), which operates the NBP.
She also said the NBI detention center was an extension of the NBP, the BuCor and NBI both being DOJ-attached agencies.
Topacio disagreed, saying that “under the circumstances, we have no choice but to file for a writ of amparo in the proper court to protect the interest of our clients, who still enjoy inalienable rights even under detention.”
The first petition was filed in the Court of Appeals by Marilou Golloso Martinez Raguro, sister of prisoner Martinez. She said Martinez’s rights were violated because he was being held incommunicado and his lawyer has had no access to him the past days.
“The violations are further highlighted by the utter lack of authority on the part of any of the respondents to cause such a transfer of confinement and, thus, impairment of such rights, the same authority being lodged only in the judicial authorities,” Raguro said in a 21-page petition.
She denied that her brother was a drug lord, having been convicted by a Tagum City court in 2008 of kidnapping for ransom.
Topacio said he and lawyers from his firm had twice tried to see Martinez—who has been charged with serious illegal detention—in connection with a pending appeal the lawyers had filed in the Court of Appeals.
The lawyers, however, were prevented from seeing Martinez, Topacio said.
“We even made representations personally with the office of the secretary of justice, where we were told to write a formal letter to the secretary on behalf of our clients. It was just a ruse, however, as the letter was not acted upon for several days,” he said.
Topacio pointed out that Martinez had not yet been convicted in final judgment, as he could still go up to the Supreme Court.
He said De Lima’s refusal to allow the lawyers and relatives to visit the inmates “is plainly at war with the constitutional guarantees of right to counsel, the prohibition against being held incommunicado, cruel and unusual punishments, and an entire slew of rules in our Constitution and in international treaties for the humane treatment of prisoners, to which the Philippines is a signatory.”
“As usual, the secretary of justice is once again writing her own Constitution, one where there is no rule of law and the state runs roughshod over individual rights,” he said.
Topacio said the Department of Justice had no power to transfer Martinez to another place of detention without a court order, as he had not been convicted with finality.
“As for the other prisoners—Agojo, Ong and Sy—they did not surrender their constitutional rights at the gate of the Bilibid. No matter the crime, it is the duty of the state to treat them as human beings and not prevent them from seeing their loved ones during the holidays. De Lima cannot play the Grinch without any legal bases, even if she looks like one,” Topacio said.
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