By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – For the first time, a public prosecutor and a judge have been charged with administrative complaints for ordering the arrest of a Bacolod-based activist in 2010.
Romulo Bito-on, coordinator of Makabayan coalition, filed the complaint against Second Assistant Provisional Prosecutor Estefanio S. Libutan Jr. and Regional Trial Court Judge Katherine Go, Nov. 16, at the Supreme Court.
Bito-on was arrested in April 2010 by virtue of the affidavits of two persons, and a “John Doe” warrant upon the motion of Libutan and issued by Go. “John Doe” warrants, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Department Circular No. 50 circa 1990, are issued when the identity of the accused is unknown, and must be amended only when there is certainty as to the names. He was charged with arson and detained for three months.
The activist filed the complaints against the Bacolod prosecutor and the judge for “gross ignorance and misapplication of the law in trumped-up charges” against him.
“Karapatan supports Mr. Bito-on in his quest for justice and accountability,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay ,said. “All lawyers as social agents of change are duty-bound to ensure the efficient and effective administration of justice. Hence, they should be held accountable if they become party to the military’s scheme of slapping trumped up charges against activists to silence opposition and dissent.”
Libutan indicted Bito-on for arson allegedly in connection with demands for “revolutionary tax.” The prosecutor indicted “15 John Does”, on the strength of the affidavits of two persons, who later executed disclaimers.
According to Bito-on’s complaint, despite the non-appearance of witnesses and lack of specific description pinpointing him as an accused and to establish probable cause, the initial warrant was amended to name him.
Bito-on was unaware of the charge against him until he was arrested by four men in plain clothes identifying themselves as police, armed with a photocopied arrest warrant. He was detained at the provincial jail and later arraigned, without the benefit of a preliminary investigation to establish probable cause. He was eventually granted bail after the prosecution failed to present a witness.
No witnesses for the prosecution appeared during the case hearings – and the alleged witnesses eventually denied that they ever executed such affidavits. The case has been dismissed provisionally. Ultimately, a new affidavit was filed by the prosecution which did not include Bito-on in the list of alleged perpetrators.
Bito-on decried malicious prosecution and was released in July 2010 and cleared of the charges against him.
Bito-on filed the complaint with the Supreme Court Office of the Court Administrator.
Libutan and Go face possible suspension or disbarment as lawyers, if found that they applied the law with prejudice and gross negligence, in contravention with lawyer’s ethics.
“We denounce the pernicious practice of using “John Doe” warrants to arrest anyone, especially to muffle opposition by progressive groups,” Palabay said.
Palabay said such practice has been blatantly employed in harassing, intimidating and detaining activists and ordinary citizens, as in the cases of the 72 Southern Tagalog activists and 73 Moro detainees from Basilan who were arbitrarily arrested and detained by virtue of John/Jane Doe warrants. “Altogether, the actions of the police, the prosecutors, and an RTC judge illustrates how a culture of impunity is reinforced by incompetence, prejudice and malice,” said Palabay.