Ilocos Norte execs want CA to declare House detention a form of 'torture'

MANILA, Philippines – Six Ilocos Norte officials who have been detained at the House of Representatives for 28 days want the Court of Appeals (CA) to declare their detention illegal and a form of torture.

Their lawyer, former solicitor general Estelito Mendoza, filed a motion asking the CA Special 4th Division to resolve their pending habeas corpus case as well as consider their detention illegal and torturous. The petition was filed on Friday, June 23.

"The detainees are undergoing torture, which is barred by international conventions and barred explicitly under our laws as well," said Mendoza. (READ: 'Maawa naman kayo,' detained Ilocos Norte officials tell House

"We have already filed a writ of habeas corpus. That is more than enough. The writ of habeas should be immediately executory," he added.

The following Ilocos Norte officials were cited in contempt and detained on May 29 by the House committee on good government and public accountability, which is digging into the alleged misuse of P66.45 million worth of provincial tobacco funds to purchase motor vehicles:

Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative Rodolfo Fariñas, who is the Majority Leader, uncovered copies of purchase requests, requests for obligation, disbursement vouchers, and checks signed by the 6 officials and Governor Imee Marcos, which were used to purchase the following motor vehicles:

Under Republic Act Number 7171, 15% of cigarette excise taxes shall be allotted for a special support fund for tobacco farmers, but the money may only be used for cooperative, livelihood, agro-industrial, and infrastructure projects.

During the hearing on May 29, Fariñas asked each of the 6 officials if they can confirm their respective signatures on the documents. 

But they all had the same line: They cannot remember signing the documents anymore given the many transactions they had to process. They then asked if they could see the original copies so they may properly comment. 

But Fariñas explained the originals mysteriously disappeared after the House initiated the probe.

The panel also issued a subpoena ordering Marcos to appear during the hearing set for July 25. If she refuses to show up, the House will issue an arrest warrant against her. (READ: 'Mastermind' muzzling Ilocos Norte execs in House probe, says Fariñas)

House vs CA

The Ilocos Norte officials earlier secured a ruling from the CA Special 4th Division ordering their provisional release.

The House, however, refused to grant this, with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez even calling the 3 justices who granted the petition "idiots." (READ: CA showed 'ignorance of law' in Ilocos execs detention case – Alvarez)

"Four weeks later, with a pending habeas corpus petition and a court order for their release, the petitioners still find themselves without any right to liberty, with no reprieve in sight, and with no recourse to justice. The 4 weeks that the petitioners have spent in detention is time lost which petitioners could never recover," read the latest petition of the Ilocos Norte executives before the CA.

"The Honorable Court, by exercising its power to issue the extraordinary writ of habeas corpus, may still relieve petitioners of the protracted and arbitrary deprivation of their liberty," said the petitioners.

They added that a representative from the CA who was supposed to serve the court's order was repeatedly denied entrance to the gates of the House "in a clear sign of the deliberate and concerted effort of the respondent and the leadership of the House to subvert service."

Justices Stephen Cruz, Erwin Sorongon, and Nina Antonino-Valenzuela of the CA Special 4th Division already issued a show cause order against Alvarez and House Sergeant-at-Arms Roland Detabali, directing them to explain why they should not be cited in contempt for refusing to recognize the order. 

But the House good government and public accountability committee also filed a separate show cause order against the 3 CA justices, asking them to explain why the House should not cite them in contempt for ruling in favor of the detainees.

Lawmakers believe the CA has no jurisdiction over the constitutionally-mandated power of House committees to cite in contempt uncooperative resource persons in committee hearings.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes earlier issued a joint statement, urging the House to reconsider its show cause order against the 3 CA justices and to observe the separation of powers. – Rappler.com 

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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