BuCor officials detained for contempt sue Senate at Court of Appeals

MANILA, Philippines – The 3 Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officials detained in the Senate for contempt filed on Wednesday, September 18, a petition for habeas corpus asking for their immediate release.

BuCor legal chief Fredric Santos, documents chief Ramoncito "Chito" Roque and Bilibid hospital doctor Ursicio Cenas filed their petition before the Court of Appeals (CA) on Wednesday, September 18, impleading the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, its chairman Senator Richard Gordon and Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto.

The petition asks for a writ of habeas corpus, the Latin phrase for ‘produce the body,’ meaning they want to appear in court and make Gordon and Sotto appear in court too to answer for their detention.

"It is respectfully prayed that a writ of habeas corpus be issued directing the respondent sergeant-at-arms to produce the body of the petitioners before this Honorable Court, to summon respondents to appear before this Honorable Court and to show cause why the writ of habeas corpus should not be issued, and/or to provisionally release him pending the hearing of the case," said the petition.

The 3 have been detained at the Senate for 6 days now, or since September 12, after being held in contempt for "lying" to the Senate panels investigating scandals inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), mainly the anomalous grants of good conduct time allowances (GCTA) to prisoners.

Biting petition

The BuCor officials said the Senate just plainly refuses to believe their testimonies if it contradicts their own witnesses.

"The answers given by petitioners which were of such tenor as would contravene the Committee's prejudged notions were not only characterized as false and evasive; petitioners were even bullied, insulted, and called liars to their faces," said their petition.

The petition added: "As it was evident that the Committee would accept no answer contrary to testimony of its own witness, petitioners were thus unjustly confronted with the exercrable trilemma of self-condemnation, perjury and contempt, effectively denying them their right to due process."

The petition cited the Supreme Court case Lopez vs Delos Reyes that warned against indefinite detention at Congress for contempt.

"While there is a presumption of regularity that the Senate will not gravely abuse its power of contempt, there is still a lingering and unavoidable possibility of indefinite imprisonment of witnesses as long as there is no specific period of detention, which is certainly not contemplated and envisioned by the Constitution," that case said.

It is the same case used by the Supreme Court itself when it freed Aegis Juris fratman Arvin Balag from detention at the Senate. In the Balag case, the Supreme Court set a precedent wherein people detained for contempt in Congress must be freed once the legislative inquiry is over.

"There is  absolutely no factual and legal basis for the order citing petitioners in contempt," said the petiion.

Cenas was accused of selling hospital passes to inmates; Roque accused of extorting inmates in exchange of early releases; and Santos for his role as legal chief in the supposed unlawful lapses in the granting of GCTAs. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.