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Smoking gun vs EJK?

For so long, the alleged involvement of the government in the killings of suspected drug personalities have remained allegations. There was never any concrete evidence that would back up that claim.

But that might now change with the botched ambush of an Iloilo City policeman who is allegedly an active pusher of shabu last Tuesday afternoon.

PO1 Dorben Acap was driving home after his regular tour of duty ended at 4 p.m. on June 26 when gunmen riding a motorcycle opened fire at him at close range. Luckily, Acap had sensed something was going to happen and ducked inside his car as a hail of bullets smashed into it.

He was hit in the left arm. He managed to stop his car in the middle of the road. His attackers stopped their motorcycle about 5 meters away, apparently preparing to finish him off.

Acap, who is left-handed, quickly got his firearm and took aim with his right hand. He fired seven rounds at his attackers who could not see him because of the heavy tint on his windshield. He saw one of his attackers fall to the ground, wounded.

The driver of the motorcycle helped his wounded companion get up from the pavement, got him to sit on the bike and fled.

That wounded gunman was later identified as PO2 Melvin Mocoro, who was last known to be assigned in the ARMM Regional Mobile Battalion of the Philippine National Police. He was supposedly on sick leave from his unit.

Mocoro was hit in the chest and leg when Acap returned fire. He was taken to the Western Visayas Medical Center in Mandurriao, Iloilo City for treatment. At first, police investigators told media Mocoro was wounded in a gunfight in Pakiad, Oton. He was taken to the hospital by a tricycle driver who was stopped by his companion near the Circumferential Road near Mandurriao.

However, Acap, without hesitation, identified Mocoro as the gunman he had hit in the exchange of gunfire when policemen from the Arevalo police station where the ambush took place showed him his picture. Mocoro wasn’t wearing a helmet when the shooting happened, and Acap said he got a good look at him when he fired back.

“It’s definitely him,” Acap said, adding that as a guard assigned to the gate of Camp Delgado, he frequently saw Mocoro get in and out of the regional PNP headquarters in Fort San Pedro. “I didn’t know his name, but I know him to be a policeman.”

Mocoro was placed under hospital arrest by the Arevalo PNP following this positive identification made by Acap.

It’s not known who was the other gunman who was driving the motorcycle, but this identification of Mocoro suddenly gave a face and name to the apparent rub-out activities targetting drug personalities.

On June 24, masked gunmen barged into the cottage occupied by Remia Prevendido-Gregori, barangay captain of Bakhaw, Mandurriao and peppered her with bullets. She died on the spot along with a female helper who was nearby. Her husband, Bonifacio Gregori Sr., was wounded. Mrs. Gregori was the sister of slain drug group leader Richard Prevendido.

The following morning, uniformed policemen stormed several homes owned by the Odict family and their known associates in Tanza Esperanza armed with search warrants for loose firearms. Andrew Altas, a brother in law of Melvin “Dragon” Odicta who was also gunned down in August 2016, was killed after he allegedly fired at the troops, forcing them to return fire. Noel “Nene” Odicta, whose third and last term as barangay captain ends June 30, was arrested and charged for allegedly keeping an unlicensed cal. 45 pistol and a hand grenade in his house.

Then came the ambush on Acap on Tuesday afternoon.

The PDEA and police said Acap was considered a high value target for actively peddling shabu in Iloilo City and southern towns of Iloilo province.

Acap was demoted two years ago after he was caught being in a house raided by the PDEA where illegal drugs were being sold.

Acap has denied his involvement in illegal drugs.

This series of violent attacks on drug personalities has already caused panic and fear among other suspected drug personalities. One of them is Keith “Dabing” Espinosa, wife of alleged Odicta drug group lieutenant Jesus “Jing Jing” Espinosa, Jr. She is now believed to be in hiding even while her supporters hold prayer vigils every night outside her residence to stop any police raid.

Mocoro remains under hospital arrest. The City Prosecutor’s Office conducted an inquest into the frustrated murder charges filed by police against him at his hospital bedside. He remains tight-lipped about the whole episode and refused to answer questions from police investigators.

The PNP Regional Office No. 6 has also issued a statement that Mocorro could not be linked to the murder of Gregori in San Joaquin last June 24. The police is apparently trying to connect her murder to rivalries between drug groups in the city.

But there is growing evidence now that Mocorro was one of the gunmen who tried to kill Acap, and suspicion is building up as well he could have been part of the group that killed Gregori.

He could be the missing link that would finally establish the involvement of the government, or at least of the police, in the spate of extra judicial killings involving drug personalities in the country.

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An enemy from within

There’s no mistaking the fact that the battle against illegal drugs is as difficult as repulsing a foreign invader, or even harder.
That’s because the enemy is hard to detect. The pusher is not just the street pug that was the stereotype in the past. Now even a public school teacher has been caught selling drugs. Barangay officials, too, have been nabbed in buy-bust operations. They are like the Vietcong whom the Americans had to fight half a century ago in the ricefields of Vietnam: by day ordinary farmers, by night fierce warriors.
We have to accept the reality that this battle can be waged in a rule of law setting. As we have seen time and again, drug lords and pushers can afford the best legal minds to defend them in court. And even in jail, they continue to run the illegal drugs trade with impunity.
For this alone, I am prepared to see President Duterte do it with brute force. Of course, he just has to be cautioned not to waste human lives. Just the same, the authorities should not hesitate to use force when it is deemed necessary.

Odicta’s release illegal?

The release of Melvin Odicta Sr. from the National Bilibid Prisons in 1995 continues to be a burning issue among lawyers.
A few night ago, a municipal trial court judge and two lawyers told me the Muntinlupa City RTC executive judge who issued the release order by virtue of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus did so without legal basis.
“If it was an application of the indeterminate sentence law under the new law amending the prison sentences for illegal drugs, then there should have been an application with the Parole and Pardon Board,” the judge said.
It was purely an executive function which needed approval of the President of the Republic, the two lawyers added.
Besides, the three of them echoed my earlier observation — based on Supreme Court decisions — that a petition for habeas corpus is not a proper remedy for convicted felons.
The release order was, in effect, an illegal act overturning the decision of an equal court which was affirmed by the Supreme Court.
It is turning out that Jun Alojado Capulot has succeeded in opening up a huge can of worms that could bring down an empire in Iloilo City.

More questions on Odicta habeas corpus

After I exposed the circumstances that surrounded the release of Melvin “Boyet” Odicta Sr. on June 7, 1995, particularly on the dubious legality of the writ of habeas corpus issued by Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 276 Judge Norma C. Perello, I was swamped with more leads that raise more questions about the whole affair.

Over coffee, I solicited the view of retired Guimaras RTC Judge Merlin Deloria on whether or not the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus was proper in basically shortening the prison sentence of Odicta, who was convicted for selling marijuana to undercover narcotics agents of the defunct PC/INP way back in March 1993 and sentence to life imprisonment.

At first, Judge Deloria was reluctant to give his opinion. He was totally in the dark about the case, he said. So I outlined to him the facts of the case from the conviction by the Iloilo RTC to the Supreme Court affirmation of the conviction and then the filing of the petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

After I had covered the breadth and length of the case in a span of 10 minutes, Judge Deloria asked me the question: “Where was he detained at the time he filed the petition for a writ of habeas corpus before the Muntinlupa RTC?”

Judge Deloria was once my professor in Taxation in law school, and I always admired his sharp analytical mind that made him one of the favorite professors in all the years he was teaching at the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City.

At once, I saw his brilliant mind at work with that question.  The National Bilibid Prison was in Muntinlupa City, making the RTC Branch 276 a proper venue for the filing of such action. But I knew that Odicta wasn’t confined at the Bilibid prison. He was serving his sentence at the Sablayan Penal Colony in Mindoro Occidental.

Judge Deloria’s question tackled the issue of jurisdiction. If Odicta was confined in Mindoro Occidental, then the Muntinlupa RTC had no jurisdiction over him.

The doubtful legality of the writ of habeas corpus as legal basis for Odicta’s release from prison didn’t end there. Judge Deloria said he didn’t think the habeas corpus proceedings was sufficient to overturn the final conviction and sentence to life imprisonment based on R.A. 7659 that revised the schedule of penalties.

There should have been a separate petition for Odicta to avail of the shorter prison term under R.A. 7659, according to Judge Deloria.

With this development, the Aksyon Radyo Iloilo management is planning to file a petition before the Supreme Court seeking the nullification of the writ of habeas corpus. Odicta had filed a libel complaint against anchorman Jun Capulot, station manager and anchorman John Paul Tia and the chief executive officer of Manila Broadcasting Co.

This mulled petition to nullify the writ of habeas corpus may result in Odicta being sent back to prison and wait for a proper judicial order applying the shorter jail term in his favor.

 

Judge habeas corpus

(Coffeebreak, December 11, 2015)

It was a story that I had hoped would be a journalistic scoop: the story about how Melvin “Boyet” Odicta Sr. had won his freedom from prison despite a life sentence meted upon him upon conviction for selling an estimated 50 grams of shabu sometime in March 1989 in Barangay Tanza Esperanza in Iloilo City.

For more than two weeks since that attempt by Odicta and his group to break into the premises of Aksyon Radyo Iloilo at 12:50 a.m. on November 19, 2015, the entire legal and media community were at a loss to know how Odicta could have gotten out of jail after serving only six years at the Sablayan Penal Colony in Mindoro Occidental.

There was, as far as everybody interested in the case could establish, no pardon or parole granted to Odicta by the Office of the President. He just seemed to have walked out of prison with the gates thrown wide open for him, with no obstacles thrown his way.

But Odicta was no Houdini. He couldn’t have just unchained himself from incarceration. I knew there had to be a document somewhere that would unlock the mystery.

True enough, a source handed over to me a sheaf of old documents that included an Order from the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 276 granting the petition of Odicta, along with 49 other prisoners, for writs of habeas corpus filed sometime in March 1995.

The petitioners were mostly convicted for violation of R.A. 6425.

What made the petitions highly questionable was the fact that these were filed by batches of 20 or 30 prisoners, and not individual cases as procedure would dictate. These were lumped in two special proceedings, and disposed by Judge Norma C. Perello, then the Executive Judge, in one sweeping order granting the petitions.

Odicta’s petition was anchored on the revised schedule of penalties for R.A. 6425. Under the old law, the penalty of selling prohibited drugs, including marijuana, was life imprisonment. Odicta was meted the life sentence for selling 50 grams of marijuana to undercover narcotics agents of the defunct PC/INP.

R.A. 7659 which was enacted in 1994 lowered the penalty for selling marijuana below 750 grams . The penalty for Odicta’s case was to be lowered to prision correccional, with a maximum imprisonment of six years.

As he had serving time for more than six years at the time, Odicta argued that there was no more reason for him to spend more time in prison. He asked the Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 276 to order his release from prison.

Judge Perello issued a blanket order on May 4, 1995 issuing a writ of habeas corpus and directing the Director of the National Bilibid Prisons to release Odicta and his co-petitioners without delay.

Until Odicta’s lawyer, Atty. Raymund Fortun, showed copies of these documents before the media on Wednesday afternoon after filing a complaint for libel against Aksyon Radyo Iloilo anchormen and management, nobody had known about their existence.

Only I had a set of these documents. I received them one week ago. It was only because I needed to verify their authenticity, and do more research about the circumstances behind the grant of the writ of habeas corpus, that my story that came out in The Daily Guardian yesterday was delayed.

But the story didn’t end there.

There is a deeper mystery, and possibly ground for a revocation of the release order, that our investigation uncovered.

Judge Perello, as it turned out, was not exactly the kind of magistrate who dispensed justice without fear or favor.

Based on decisions of the Supreme Court, Judge Perello had in fact been found guilty of “gross ignorance of the law” in two administrative proceedings filed against her. In the first case, she was suspended for six months without pay as penalty. In the second case, she was fined P40,000.

The investigation conducted by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) showed that Judge Perello carried a heavy load of habeas corpus case while she was Executive Judge of the Muntinlupa City RTC.

And the Supreme Court auditors discovered evidence of highly irregular disposition of these habeas corpus case covering the period 1998-2004. Among the anomalous practices was that Judge Perello didn’t even have copies of the convictions of prisoners who filed the petitions before her. In a few cases, entire folders were missing.

This can only lead to one conclusion: that Judge Perello had ran a racket selling writs of habeas corpus to prisoners in a hurry to get out of prison. As the Supreme Court established, she released prisoners who had not even served the full term of their sentences. No judge in his or her right mind would do that.

Now that there is an inordinate interest in his case, Odicta can expect that authorities will seek a reversal of that habeas corpus writ issued under highly anomalous circumstances.

The judge who issued the release order already has a track record of irregular official acts that were made ground to find her guilty of gross ignorance of the law.

Odicta should now brace himself for a legal storm that might sweep him back to jail. Judge Habeas Corpus, which is perhaps the proper title for Judge Perello, won’t be there to hand him his freedom on a silver platter, not anymore.

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