The most controversial cases that stunned the nation in 2017

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With the drug war questioned before the high court, a senator jailed for drug charges, and a former president accused of graft and usurpation, 2017 would not be complete without its hottest legal issues, trials and debates.

The Philippine courts and law agencies were caught at the center of a conflict between the firebrand Duterte administration and an opposition accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of undermining the rule of law.

With the judiciary and prosecution in focus, looks back at the most pressing legal controversies that stunned 2017’s news cycle.


1. Duterte’s martial law ‘constitutional’

It was made clear the President can put any part of the country under martial law when the Supreme Court (SC) declared Duterte’s martial rule in Mindanao as constitutional.

“The President’s duty to maintain peace and public safety is not limited only to the place where there is actual rebellion; it extends to other areas where the present hostilities are in danger of spilling over,” the SC said in an 82-page landmark decision.

Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao last May 23 to quell the threats posed by the Maute group in Marawi City. The declaration was extended until the end of 2018 after Congress approved the President’s request.


2. De Lima’s drug cases

For her alleged involvement in the narcotics trade at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) when she was Department of Justice (DOJ) chief, Senator Leila de Lima was slapped with three counts of drug charges before the Muntinlupa trial court.

Hoping to junk her arrest order for lack of jurisdiction, De Lima elevated her cases to the SC, only for majority of the justices to deny her plea.

Ten months since her arrest, De Lima has yet to be arraigned as the DOJ was still amending the charges, from “drug trafficking” to “conspiracy” to trade narcotics.

The senator dismissed the charges as mere “political persecution” by the Duterte administration. 


3. Lawyers ask SC to halt ‘unconstitutional’ drug war

With the growing number of alleged extrajudicial killings, lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and the Center for International Law (CenterLaw) asked the SC to stop the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) “Oplan Tokhang.”

FLAG sought to declare as unconstitutional PNP’s CMC 16-2016, or “Oplan Double Barrel.” They said it allowed police to “neutralize” suspected drug pushers.

CenterLaw on the other hand sought the issuance of a writ of amparo to shield the residents of 26 villages in San Andres Bukid, Manila against the drug war.

During the oral arguments, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said that forcing persons to open their doors to the police during Oplan Tokhang visits was a violation of the Anti-Torture Law.

Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, meanwhile, said there was basis to temporarily halt the drug war due to Oplan Tokhang’s house-to-house visits, explaining that it allowed the police to violate constitutional rights.


4. Napoles acquitted of illegal detention raps

In a surprising turn of events, alleged pork barrel scam queen Janet Lim-Napoles was acquitted for serious illegal detention charges filed by whistleblower Benhur Luy.

This, after the Court of Appeals (CA) ruled that Luy “failed” to prove Napoles had deprived him of liberty as he had unrestricted access to a mobile phone, he did not try to escape, nor did he subject himself to a “rescue operation.”

The CA ruling would not have any bearing on Napoles’ pork barrel cases since they are “totally different,” explained Solicitor General Jose Calida.

However, days after the acquittal, DOJ Secretary Aguirre announced he would reopen the pork scam probe, and that he would consider using Napoles as state witness.


5. Marcos’ poll protest moves forward at SC

More than a year since the 2016 elections, the electoral protest filed by former Sen. Bongbong Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo has remained pending at the SC.

The ballot recount Marcos has longed for was expected to start on the second week of February, said Romulo Macalintal, Robredo’s lawyer. The recount would cover three pilot provinces: Camarines Sur, Iloilo and Negros Oriental.

Marcos’ poll protest progressed after the SC, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), found his protest to be sufficient in form and substance last February.

Despite the PET’s green light for the recount, the Robredo camp expressed confidence the outcome would fall in their favor.


6. The killings of Kian, Carl and ‘Kulot’

The deaths of three teenagers amid the “one time, big time” anti-drug operations in Caloocan City had sparked outrage across the country.

Kian Loyd delos Santos, 17, was fatally shot on the night of August 16. Police claimed Kian resisted arrest and fired a pistol, but surveillance camera footage showed otherwise.

Carl Angelo Arnaiz, 19, and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman, 14, both disappeared on August 18, their parents said. They were later found dead. Carl’s body was found in a morgue in Caloocan on August 28, while Kulot’s body was found in a creek in Nueva Ecija on September 5.

The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), representing the teenagers’ parents, filed murder charges against Caloocan policemen allegedly involved in the killings. As of this posting, the DOJ has yet to release its resolution on the criminal cases.


7. ‘Tokhang for Ransom’

The death of South Korean trader Jee Ick Joo, who was nabbed under the guise of “Oplan Tokhang” and was strangled to death inside Camp Crame, forced PNP chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa to “melt in shame.”

Three high-ranking cops and several others tagged in the killing were ordered arrested after the DOJ filed cases for kidnapping and serious illegal detention before the Angeles City Regional Trial Court (RTC).

The INQUIRER first broke the story last January after Jee’s wife, Choi Kyung-jin, decided to make public his demise as she appealed to Duterte and Dela Rosa for help.

Choi said that on October 31, she left a P5 million ransom in a mall as demanded by the abductors. The abductors however demanded another P4.5 million, but Choi said she could not produce the amount. When Choi asked for proof her husband was still alive, the abductors refused. She never heard from them again.

Among those charged were alleged mastermind Police Supt. Rafael Dumlao, SPO3 Ricky Sta. Isabel, SPO4 Roy Villegas, Jerry Omlang and several others. As of this post, the case was pending before the Angeles City RTC.


8. P6.4-B shabu shipment from China

A crisis engulfed the Bureau of Customs (BOC) after a shipment containing P6.4 billion worth of methamphetamine, also known as shabu, entered the country last May. Authorities seized the narcotics at a warehouse in Valenzuela City.

BOC officials were grilled before Senate and House inquiries as lawmakers demanded an explanation how the shipment passed through monitors without being scanned by an X-ray machine.

Criminal complaints have been filed at the DOJ against businessman Richard Tan, his middleman Kenneth Dong, shipment consignee Manny Li, alleged Customs fixers Mark Taguba and Teejay Marcellana, and several others tagged in the drug shipment’s entry.

As of this post, the DOJ has concluded its preliminary investigation on the criminal cases filed by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), while it has yet to issue a resolution on the complaints filed by the BOC.


9. Aquino indicted for graft, usurpation

Former President Benigno Aquino III was indicted for graft and usurpation of authority over the botched “Oplan Exodus” that led to the deaths of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers in what was dubbed as the “Mamasapano massacre.”

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said Aquino “willfully, unlawfully and feloniously” allowed then PNP chief Alan Purisima to meddle in Oplan Exodus. Purisima was suspended at the time of the operation.

Aquino’s critics, however, said that the charges were weak, and that the Ombudsman should have charged him for reckless imprudence resulting into multiple homicide.

The former president insisted that the deaths were not his fault as he pinned the blame anew on former SAF chief Getulio Napeñas who led the execution of Oplan Exodus. 


10. Jinggoy Estrada allowed to post bail

Former Senator Jinggoy Estrada, accused in the alleged P10 billion pork barrel scam ,was granted bail by the Sandiganbayan as there was “no strong evidence” to show that he was the “main plunderer.”

The Sandiganbayan Special Fifth Division said it only conformed with the SC’s ruling that absolved former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of plunder cases in the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office fund scam.

Citing how the SC explained Arroyo’s acquittal, the Sandiganbayan said that the plunder charges should identify who the mastermind was. “This Court is duty bound to follow and apply the Supreme Court’s rulings in that case,” the anti-graft court said.

Estrada was ordered released last September after posting a P1.3 million bail. –


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