DOJ asks SC to transfer drugs case trial of ex-NBI exec
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has asked the Supreme Court to transfer the trial venue of the illegal drugs case filed against Atty. Augusto Eric Isidoro, a former official of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and several others from Virac, Catanduanes to any court in the National Capital Region (NCR) preferably in Makati or Quezon City.
In his four page letter to acting Chief Justice, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said they have no other recourse but to seek the transfer of the case as there is no other sitting judge in Virac except for Executive Judge Lelu P. Contreras.
The DOJ chief said Contreras delayed the release of the search warrant requested by the police to search a warehouse located 100 meters from the main highway in the village of Palta Small in Virac, Catanduanes on Nov. 25, 2016.
According to the DOJ, Contreras said she can only issue the search warrant if the police officers can obtain a certification from the Municipal Engineering Office that there was no building permit for the warehouse.
In the morning of Nov. 26, 2016, when police went to the warehouse, they saw Virac Mayor Samuel Laynes, Contreras and Angelica A. Balmadrid-Isidoro, the wife of the former NBI official.
“It was only upon smelling the pungent odor of chemicals, shabu, several machineries and equipment similarly seen in clandestine shabu laboratories that the Presiding Judge told the police officers that they could apply for a search warrant,” read the letter to Carpio.
According to Aguirre’s letter to the High Court, when police officers arrived in court to submit their application and supporting documents, they were informed that the judge was not seen in her chambers the whole afternoon. Aguirre in his letter, added that the search warrant was only issued when it was almost nighttime.
Aguirre added that they sought Contreras’ inhibition from the case on March 21, 2018. However, after the filing of the motion to inhibit, Contreras issued an order requiring the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Regional Office V to destroy the seized illegal drugs, chemicals, instruments and laboratory equipment within 24 hours upon receipt of the order.
The DOJ chief said the order was issued in violation of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Section 21 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.
Under the said rules, prior to the order to destroy seized illegal drugs, chemicals and equipment, there has to be a separate motion which will be heard by the court. There has to be an ocular inspection of the area. During the ocular inspection, samples should be taken, marked and sealed in the presence of the offender, counsel or representative, laboratory personnel.
“The Presiding Judge which the prosecution wants to be recused is also the acting Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court Branch 42 of Virac, Catanduanes. There is no other sitting RTC judge in Virac,” said Aguirre.
Aguirre added that “the accused in these cases are politically connected and likewise yield an influence in the community. Thus, there is an imperious necessity to change the venue of the trial of this case.”
“The transfer of venue will also insulate the proceedings from influence or threats from any groups affiliated with the accused,” he added.
The shabu laboratory in Virac, Catanduanes was believed to be the biggest discovered in the country.
Isidoro was dragged into the case as his family owned the property which was leased to Jason Gonzales Uy, the suspected owner of the laboratory. /muf
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