Championing rule of law, speedy justice under Guevarra’s helm

MANILA � It has been a little over a year this month when the team led by Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra took over the helm of the Department of Justice (DoJ) and has since proven to be a dynamic organization dedicated to President Rodrigo Duterte's commitment towards transparency in governance and the elimination of corruption in all levels of the bureaucracy.

The original "Guevarra team" consisted of lawyers Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, Adrian F. Sugay, Markk L. Perete, and Neal Vincent M. Bainto.

Work ahead

The work ahead was daunting and the DOJ, under Guevarra, has assured that MalacaAang is working to close the gap in the vacancy of prosecutors handling criminal cases, especially in far-flung areas.

Newly-appointed Prosecutor General, Benedicto Malcontento, who brings into the post 25 years of private practice of law, said he is hoping to address the service aspect of the prosecution.

In terms of the workload of prosecutors, there are DOJ prosecutors handling more than 1,000 complaints, especially with regard to National Capital Region prosecution offices.

The heaviest case loads are handled by prosecutors from Mandaluyong, Manila, and Quezon City.

In Caloocan City, prosecutors, on the average, handle at least 800 to about a thousand at any given time, the DOJ noted.

The DOJ's goal is to limit the caseload to less than 500 to allow prosecutors to attend to their other duties such as attending hearings.

The DOJ's main office is no exception to the workload and explained that cases appealed to the Office of the Secretary through petitions of review range from 12,000 to 14,000.

The great majority of these cases of around 10,000 were pending before the Duterte administration came to power in 2016.

While the rest of 2,000 or 3,000 were filed after June 30, 2016.

Controversial cases

The justice department has always been at the forefront of controversial cases, and this year is no different.

With seats barely warm, the DOJ under Guevarra, particularly the Office of the Prosecutor General, found probable cause against suspected big-time drug lord Kerwin Espinosa and others for conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading.

A month later, the DOJ likewise found probable cause against alleged drug lord Peter Go Lim, along with Espinosa, for illegal drug trading.

In November last year, the DOJ also charged Davidson Bangayan a.k.a. David Tan and five others for rice smuggling.

The DOJ found Bangayan and one Elizabeth Faustino to have used various multi-purpose cooperatives as dummies in bidding for the importation of rice.

The DOJ likewise found that David G. Lim, Judilyne C. Lim, Eleanor C. Rodriguez and Leah Echeveria also resorted to the same modus operandi so that they could import rice through certain cooperatives and thereafter, monopolize or manipulate the supply and price of rice in the country.

That same month, the DOJ also indicted Rappler Holdings Corp. (RHC) and two other officials for violation of the National Internal Revenue Code.

In its complaint, the BIR alleged that RHC, Ressa, and one other respondent, RHC treasurer James C. Bitanga, did not reflect in RHC's 2015 tax returns the total gain of almost PHP162.5 million which it realized from its issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDR) to NBM Rappler L.P. (NBM Rappler) and Omidyar Network Find L.L.C. (Omidyar).

More accomplishments

In December, the DOJ bagged two Freedom of Information (FOI) awards for its full implementation of the government's FOI campaign.

At the start of the year, DOJ prosecutors successfully secured the conviction of a former bank manager Maia Santos-Deguito who was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt and meted the indeterminate penalty of four to seven years' imprisonment for each of the eight counts of the offense for her part in the middle of the USD810million Bangladesh bank heist.

In March, the DOJ ruled to find probable cause for criminal negligence in its probe on irregularities in the Dengavaxia anti-Dengue vaccine controversy.

Last month the DOJ also charged the website developer responsible for the video series "Ang Totoong Narcolist" videos before the Paranaque Regional Trial Court.

In the video series, a hooded figure named Bikoy who claims to be a former drug syndicate member alleges that presidential son and Rep. Paolo Duterte, Senator Christopher Bong Go, and presidential son-in-law Manases Carpio receive millions from the illegal drug trade.

Earlier this month, Guevarra vowed that his agency will evaluate thoroughly the case against the 35 individuals identified by Peter Joemel Advincula as behind the so-called "Operation Sodoma" eyed to discredit the government.

Advincula was the man who identified himself as "Bikoy" in the viral videos that tagged President Duterte's family in the drug trade.

Solgen victories

The Office of the Solicitor General, an independent and autonomous office attached to the DOJ, has also played a key role in being the principal law enforcer and legal defender of the government consisting of around 30 assistant solicitor generals.

Aside from its day-to-day functions, the OSG, under Jose Calida, has likewise seen significant victories in defending the state in litigation before various courts.

Last December, the Senate approved a bill expanding the powers and capabilities of the OSG, including the ability to hire foreigners as counsel, amending Republic Act 9417.

The bill introduces new provisions that address concerns on the hiring of more lawyers, skills training and specialization, modernization of equipment, and retirement benefits.

The OSG, under the said bill, will also be allowed to hire a foreign counsel which the office thinks could best represent the interests of the Republic.

This month, the Solgen exposed shortcuts in the filing of a writ of kalikasan suit supposedly filed by fisherfolk from Palawan and Zambales against government agencies and requesting state action against the state's policy in areas in the West of Philippine Sea.

Calida, during oral arguments before the SC, bared that most of the petitioners had not been actually consulted and had not given their consent to file the suit.

The lawyers supposedly representing the petitioners have since sought the withdrawal of the petition.

In the Court of Appeals, the Solgen successfully secured the dismissal of one of two presently pending writ of amparo and habeas data cases against the government.

The CA dismissed the petitions for the writ of amparo and habeas data filed by progressive organizations Karapatan, Gabriela, and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

CA Associate Justice Mario Lopez, on June 28, ruled that there is no substantial evidence to establish the petitioners' allegations of terrorist-tagging by the Philippine military and the ongoing smear campaign against human rights defenders.

Another amparo suit filed by the National Union of People's Lawyers remains pending before the appellate court after a plea for a temporary protection order was turned down by the CA. (PNA)

Source: Philippines News Agency

Related posts