RTC-Manila Finally Dismisses Writ of Amparo Petition Against DOJ Secretary, et al.

01 March 2013

After one (1) whole year since its filing by former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director MAGTANGGOL B. GATDULA, the Petition for the Issuance of a Writ of Amparo against  his superior, Secretary of Justice LEILA M. DE LIMA, his eventual replacement, then NBI OIC-Director NONNATUS CAESAR R ROJAS, and his former colleague in the NBI, Deputy Director REYNALDO ESMERALDA, has finally been DISMISSED FOR  LACK OF MERIT.

The case arose when the NBI began to investigate an incident in February of last year, wherein Esmeralda, his brother, Police Officer  3  Nilo Esmeralda, and other NBI agents, who were then on their way home from the NBI headquarters, were fired upon by assailants along Apacible Street in Paco, Manila. Later on, a drug-bust operation conducted by the NBI led them to the perpetrators of the ambush, pointing at former NBI  Director Gatdula as mastermind, along with businessman Tyrone Ong; retired policeman Perfecto Villanueva and eight others.

In his Petition, Gatdula sought to make Secretary De Lima, Rojas and Esmeralda "to cease and desist from further threatening [his] life, liberty and security ... and [that of] his family and to cease and desist from framing up Petitioner for the fake ambush incident by filing bogus charges of Frustrated Murder against [him] in relation to the alleged ambush incident."

Instead of deciding whether or not to issue a Writ of Amparo, Regional Trial Court of Manila (RTC-Manila), Branch 26 Presiding Judge SILVINO T. PAMPILO, JR. ordered Secretary De Lima and her co-respondents to file an Answer, and also set a hearing allegedly to determine whether a temporary protection order may be issued, contrary
to the provisions of Rule on the Writ of Amparo promulgated by the Supreme Court (KM. No. 07-9-12-SC, 25 September 2007). Observing a  breach in procedure, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), as counsel for the Respondents, manifested that a Return, not an Answer, is  appropriate for Amparo cases. Judge Pampilo, however, insisted on the  correctness of his orders, and ultimately rendered a so-called  "Decision" granting the issuance of the Writ of Amparo and granted interim reliefs, namely, of temporary protection, production and inspection orders, although, as later noted by the Supreme Court, it was unclear as to how the pieces of evidence involving an on-going investigation of the attempted assassination of Esmeralda may be related to the alleged threat to the life, liberty or security of Gatdula.

The Respondents brought their objections all the way to theSupreme Court which, in a Resolution penned by Associate Justice  MARVIC MARIO VICTOR F. LEONEN, pointed out several procedural irregularities committed by the Presiding Judge, namely: (1) the insistence on the filing of an Answer; (2) the holding of a hearing on the  main case prior to the issuance of the writ and the filing of a Return; (3) "worse", requiring a Memorandum in lieu of a responsive pleading, which, furthermore, is a prohibited pleading under the Rule on the Writ of Amparo; (4) the "Decision", the language of which gave theimpression that it was the final judgment envisioned by the Rule when, in fact, it was but an interlocutory order that grants the privilege ofthe Writ of Amparo (entitling petition to the availment of the entire procedure outlined in the Rule), but is not yet the actual order, called the Writ of Amparo.

The Supreme Court lamented that "[w]hen it is the judge himself who disregards the rules of procedure, delay and confusion result." Thus, the Court unanimously resolved to "NULLIFY all orders that are subject of [the Court's] Resolution issued by Judge SILVINO T. PAMPILO, JR. after respondent Gatdula filed the Petition for the Issuance of a Writ of Amparo," and "DIRECT Judge Pampilo to determine within forty-eight (48) hours from his receipt of [the Court's] Resolution whether the issuance of the Writ of Amparo is proper on the basis of the petition and its attached affidavits," with the "WARNING that further deviation or improvisation from the procedure set in A.M. No. 07-9-12-SC shall be meted with severe consequences."

The very next day following his receipt of the Court's Resolution, and exactly one year and one day after the filing of the Petition on 27 February 2012, Judge Pampilo forthwith  issued an Order, dismissing the Petition for lack of merit, stating, in part, that:

"The Writ of Amparo is not the remedy available to those who fear indictment. As admitted by the petitioner, he is seeking constitutional rights to life, liberty and security which are threatened by the filing of bogus charges for three counts of spurious frustrated murder.

"This Court is without power to stop any person or government entities from filing charges against those have  (sic) transgressed the law or believed to have committed an offense.

"If the petitioner fears that he will be charged for the ambush of respondent Esmeralda, this court cannot cure his fears. Only he and he alone can conquer that fear."

According to Secretary De Lima, "We feel vindicated by the Resolution of the Supreme Court, which was quite remarkably reached unanimously. This whole case, which took one whole year to resolve instead of as short as more or less 72 hours, is an aggravation to the institutions we represent, to us personally, and to the real victims of threats to their life, liberty and security. As we have previously had occasion to state almost exactly one year ago, the Writ of Amparo is an  extraordinary writ. It should not be abused. The writ is supposed to be available where the 'threat' against the 'life, liberty and security' of the  petitioner is unlawful, and not when such arises from a lawful process, i.e., a criminal proceeding. In this case, the private offended parties have already filed their complaint and the preliminary investigation in that case, as far as I know, is almost done."

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