Department Circular No. 004 which I issued on January 4, 2017 provides that notwithstanding the automatic review of cases covered by R.A. No. 9165 and involving the maximum penalty of reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, the respondent shall immediately be released from detention unless detained for other causes. I have ordered an investigation into why this provision was not observed in the case of Mr. Ang.
The parties responsible shall be held accountable.
- Justice Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II
On May 10, 2017, a news report from ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol broke the story of Mr. Api Ang, a 61-year old former detainee at the Manila Police District (MPD) Headquarters. According to the report, he was arrested on November 21, 2016 by elements from the MPD after a raid in his hotel unit which allegedly yielded drugs, paraphernalia and ammunition therein.
Sometime thereafter, the criminal complaint against Mr. Ang was dismissed by the City Prosecution Office of Manila. The case involving dangerous drugs, its dismissal was subjected to Automatic Review before the Office of the Secretary of Justice.
Notwithstanding the dismissal of his case before the City Prosecutor, Mr. Ang remained in detention until his demise last April 2017.
Initial investigation and incomplete reports submitted to the Department of Justice on the matter suggest that a confusion as to the continued detention of Mr. Ang arose due to previous issuances of the past administration.
One such issuance is Department Circular No. 022 dated February 12, 2013 issued by then Secretary Leila M. De Lima, with the subject “Guidelines on the Release of Respondents/Accused Pending Automatic Review of Dismissed Cases involving Republic Act No. 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act).”
Under the said Circular, certain respondents when arrested shall remain in detention while their respective cases are under Automatic Review, despite dismissal of the preliminary investigation of cases against them.
Further, Department Circular No. 050 dated December 18, 2015 issued by then Secretary Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa amended the same in requiring that the respondent shall be immediately released from detention pending automatic review only if the case subject of the automatic review is not resolved within thirty (30) days.
Immediately recognizing that the foregoing Circulars are in violation of the people’s right to liberty, Department Circular No. 004 dated January 4, 2017 was issued by Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II in order to rectify this grave wrong.
The Circular mandates that notwithstanding the automatic review, respondent shall be immediately released from detention unless detained for other causes.
“In other words, the Department solemnly abides with the Constitution and, as a matter of high policy, directs all its officials and personnel to ensure that no person shall unduly suffer prolonged detention once his or her case has been dismissed, even if the same should be subjected to an appeal or review”, Justice Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II said.
Lamentably, as events turned out, one detainee has to die before the Department should know that the confusion brought about by the Circulars of the prior administration persists, adversely affecting the lives and rights of those in detention.
Accordingly, the Secretary of Justice has already instructed officials concerned to conduct a thorough investigation of the circumstances leading to the arrest and subsequent death of Mr. Ang, including as to why he remained in detention despite the dismissal of the criminal complaint against him, as well as the status of the automatic review of his case.
The National Bureau of Investigation is currently conducting its own investigation on possible violations of laws of the MPD and its responsible officers in the arrest and death of Mr. Ang.
Further, City Prosecutor Edward M. Togonon has been directed to explain as to the reasons and circumstances over the continued detention of Mr. Ang despite the dismissal of the criminal complaint against him.
“All those responsible will be held accountable!”, added Secretary Aguirre.
In addition, recognizing that there is a problem in the disposition of cases pending in the DOJ, particularly with respect to appealed and reviewed cases pending before the Secretary of Justice, the Department wishes to inform the public that efforts and great strides are currently being undertaken in order to de-clog the dockets of cases pending before the Office of the Secretary.
Department Circular Nos. 003 and 019, dated January 4, 2017 and March 8, 2017, respectively, have radically expedited the disposition and resolution of these pending cases. Pursuant to their functions as mandated by law, the entire Prosecution Staff are directed to assist the Secretary of Justice in his disposition of these case.
Currently, there are around 15,000 cases pending the Secretary’s review, 13,000 of these cases were carried over without action from the previous administration. Nevertheless, the implementation of new policies is expected to address and expedite the resolution of all these cases.
Moreover, changes are introduced in order to improve methodologies and best practices in the Department. To date, cases filed starting May 2017 are being preliminarily resolved on procedural matters in real-time, which means litigants can expect to receive resolutions of their cases as early as a week after date of filing, while cases which require substantive review are expected to be resolved within sixty (60) days, as mandated by the Rules of Court.
Parallel to the real-time resolution of newly-filed cases, the approximately 15,000 cases pending before the Department are likewise being reviewed by the Prosecution Staff.
All told, cases long neglected and unresolved are all currently under review by prosecutors and officials of the Department towards the goal to deliver justice to the public in an efficient and timely manner.
Thus, the Department calls for the public’s understanding and support as we implement renewed measures and improvements on the delivery of our services and of the effective pursuit of our mandates.