Court of Appeals junks kidnap case vs ex-NBI chief
MANILA, Philippines—The Court of Appeals has invalidated the kidnap-for-ransom case the Department of Justice had brought against one of its own, former police general and National Bureau of Investigation Director Magtanggol Gatdula, saying that he was denied due process.
The appellate court’s Ninth Division declared “null and void” the proceedings that a DOJ fact-finding panel conducted against Gatdula in December 2011 in connection with the abduction of a Japanese woman, Noriyo Ohara.
“The court cannot permit and stay on the sidelines when the rights of a person, whether a high-ranking official or an ordinary civilian, have been violated,” the appellate tribunal said in its ruling dated March 24.
The appellate court also deemed “inadmissible” all the evidence that had been gathered against Gatdula in connection with the kidnapping of Ohara, an undocumented foreign national who was allegedly abducted by NBI agents for ransom.
“For depriving petitioner-appellee (Gatdula) of his right to due process, even as to his administrative liability as recommended in the report, it is only proper that the whole proceeding be declared null and void and, consequently, the evidence against petitioner-appellee gathered by the panel shall be inadmissible in any other proceeding,” said the ruling penned by Associate Justice Isabel Paredes.
The ruling dismissed the DOJ’s appeal against the Manila Regional Trial Court’s decision granting Gatdula’s petition to nullify the fact-finding body’s investigation.
The kidnapping case first came to light in Ramon Tulfo’s Inquirer column “On Target” on Dec. 3, 2011. Several NBI agents were implicated in the case.
Ohara’s foster family in Pangasinan had accused NBI agents of holding her hostage in exchange for P15 million. Ohara had arrived in the Philippines without travel documents in October 2011 purportedly to escape the Japanese mafia, court records showed.
The DOJ quickly assembled an investigation panel, later forwarding to the Ombudsman and President Aquino its recommendations that the suspect NBI agents and officials, including Gatdula, be criminally and administratively charged.
Gatdula was removed from his post in January 2012, about a month after the incident was first revealed.
In its ruling, the appellate court cited how the DOJ panel had invited Gatdula to its investigation on Dec. 22, 2011, without advising him that he had been implicated in the crime by Jose Cabillan, an executive officer in the NBI’s security and management division.
Cabillan, who was among those being investigated in the abduction, testified that Gatdula may have had knowledge of the operation and even supposedly received part of the ransom.
“While the creation of the panel was valid and constitutional, we cannot discount the fact that [Gatdula] was invited to attend the hearing on the pretext that he would only be a resource person, not knowing or being apprised that Cabillan had already implicated him in his affidavit,” the appellate court said.
“As such, [Gatdula] was not given the opportunity to be represented by counsel and was not even asked if he needed one,” it said.
The court ruled that this violated Gatdula’s rights against self-incrimination and to counsel and to due process.
The court further ruled that Cabillan’s testimony was of a “poisonous tree,” and the “fruits therefrom cannot be consumed by any other body.”
“That the manner of the panel’s proceedings was cordial is immaterial and irrelevant. In reality, Gatdula, not knowing that he was being implicated in a crime or that he would be held administratively liable, was denied due process and robbed of his constitutional rights,” the appellate court said.
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