Why the arrest of 3 lawyers in a Makati bar is being criticized

August 17, 2018 - 6:42 PM
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Time Bar in Makati as seen in June 2017 on Google Street View.

A number of lawyers and legal groups have criticized the arrest of three lawyers inspecting a bar in Makati for alleged obstruction of justice after the three entered the premises of a crime scene to inspect and investigate.

Lawyers Romulo Alarkon, Jan Vincent Soliven and Leni Rocha, who were inspecting Time Bar on Makati Avenue, were detained by Makati police on Thursday.

According to authorities, the three “entered the premises of the bar, took several pictures and videos of the scene and intimidated the members of the searching team” while a search warrant was served in the venue.

Burton Joseph Server, owner of the bar and 31 of his employees were slapped with drug charges after a raid conducted last Saturday. At least P1.7 million worth of party drugs and P22,500 drug money were seized.

The narcotics were found under the chairs and tables in the bar, according to National Capital Region Police Office Chief Superintendent Guillermo Eleazar.

A total of 57 foreigners and 63 Filipinos invited for questioning by the police have been released but will be subject to further investigation.

Obstruction of justice?

Some accounts of what transpired during the raid have circulated since the incident.

The lawyers defending Alarkon, Soliven and Rocha said the three who were monitoring the police inventory were merely performing their duties as required by standard legal procedure.

Lawyer Diane Desierto of the Desierto and Desierto Law Office in a series of Facebook posts criticized the arrest and vowed action to assist the detained lawyers.

Desierto documented the incident on the European Journal of International Law.

Integrated Bar of the Philippines President Abdiel Dan Fajardo has also stated that the group will be filing a petition for the writ of habeas corpus to challenge the arrest and compel the authorities to present the detainees before the court.

Legal groups such as the Free Legal Assistance Group and the National Union of People’s Lawyers have also criticized the arrest.

Members of the two groups are known to be involved in the “Manlaban sa EJK” group, an alliance of legal academicians protesting against the series of extrajudicial killings that have erupted since the start of the Duterte administration.

According to its preamble, PD 1829 was passed to “discourage public indifference or apathy towards the apprehension and prosecution of criminal offenders, it is necessary to penalize acts which obstruct or frustrate or tend to obstruct or frustrate the successful apprehension and prosecution of criminal offenders.”

The acts penalized by the law include:

  • Prevention of a witness from testifying in any criminal proceeding or reporting of the offense or the identity of the offender by means bribery, misrepresentation, deceit, intimidation, force or threats
  • altering, destroying, suppressing or concealing any document or object so as to prevent from being presented in any criminal proceeding
  • harboring or concealing, or facilitating the escape of, any person he suspects or believes to have committed any offense under existing penal laws
  • publicly using a fictitious name or concealing his true name and other personal circumstances for the purpose of concealing a crime, evading prosecution or execution of a judgment
  • delaying the prosecution of a criminal case by obstructing the service of process or court orders or disturbing proceedings in the fiscal’s offices, in the Office of the Ombudsman, or in any court
  • falsification of a record or document to affect the course or outcome of an investigation or proceeding in a criminal case
  • soliciting, accepting, or agreeing to accept any benefit in consideration of abstaining from, discounting, or impeding the prosecution of a criminal offender
  • threatening another person or his family, honor or property so as to prevent his appearance in an investigation or criminal proceeding
  • falsifying or fabricating information to prevent authorities from apprehending the offender, protecting the victim and misleading the authorities