Court slaps contempt raps vs 5 PDEA agents for fake, illegal arrest of drug suspects

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 21) — The tables have turned for five agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency after the court discovered that they made up details of a buy-bust operation in Dumaguete City.

In her October 9 order, Presiding Judge Amelia Lourdes Mendoza from the Regional Trial Court of Negros Oriental Branch 34 dismissed drug charges filed by PDEA operatives against five suspects and wanted to charge the arresting officers instead.

The 15-page order revealed how the actual arrest of suspects Richard "Enol" Torres, Shinette Sarabia, Gabriel Aranas, Gwendell Ozoa, and Katrina Tish Dabao was starkly different from the buy-bust story made up by the PDEA operatives. This was discovered after a review of CCTV footages from different surveillance cameras in the city.

PDEA officials claimed that they carried out the entrapment operation in Torres' house in Barangay Looc on June 28, saying they got the lead from a confidential informant that the group was "engaged in illegal drug activities."

PDEA Intelligence Officers May Ann Carmelo, Jose Anthony Juanites, and Cheryl Mae Villaver were assigned to the case, with Villaver posing as the shabu buyer. The officials said they went to Torres' house, where they saw three other accused having a pot session and branded Sarabia as the "supplier" who arrived with a shabu sachet. This was the cue for PDEA to arrest the group, they said.

However, the judge said this was far from the sequence of events recounted by the accused and corroborated with CCTV evidence. Contrary to the agents' claim that Torres was apprehended in his home, he said he was walking by an alley near JJ Hotelier in the city when PDEA operatives made him board a dark-tinted SUV.

Dabao and Ozoa were also led to ride the same car when they arrived in the area after the vehicle and two motorcycles blocked their path. Minutes later, Aranas was forced to join them too.

The car, now loaded with four of the accused, drove about 10 minutes north and parked in front of a restaurant to accost Sarabia, who was inside a car parked by the curb. Only then were they led to Torres' house.

"It was made to appear that this was the place of their actual arrest," the court ruled, as it outlined the timeline of events and even established the route of the Isuzu vehicle which was confirmed to be PDEA property.

The judge said the accused were illegally arrested that day; thus, the cases cannot be pursued.

"This court shall not shirk from this immense responsibility of protecting not only the individual rights of the accused in these cases, but more importantly, in ensuring that individual liberties are never sacrificed on account of expediency and efficacy of the war on drugs," Mendoza said as she dismissed the drug raps.

RELATED: PH gov’t drug war worsened amid COVID-19 pandemic – Human Rights Watch

The court took the account of the accused as closer to truth, saying the locations they identified matched the areas where the blue PDEA car was spotted during the said times that day. The judge added that it was "nearly impossible" to conjure fake CCTV videos.

She then ordered the release of the five suspects and initiated charges against the erring PDEA officials. Carmelo, Juanites, and Villaver, as well as intelligence officers Nelson Muchuelas and Realyn Pinpin now face indirect contempt proceedings before the court, together with barangay official Sheila Mae Catada and media representative Juditho Fabillar. According to Mendoza, they must face raps for "making untruthful statements" in their affidavits and "degrading the administration of justice."

A hearing is scheduled on November 13 for the contempt proceedings.

"Nothing short than constant vigilance on the part of the courts is required to prevent our slippery slope towards contempt for the law and anarchy," the judge said.

In a statement, ​PDEA Director General Wilkins Villanueva said he ordered the Intelligence and Investigation Service and the Internal Affairs Service to conduct parallel investigations in light of the issue.

"PDEA will never condone any illegal acts of our personnel. We will leave it to the court while our personnel will also have their rights to be heard," Villanueva said.