Why doctor in Philhealth scandal is still detained despite warrantless arrest

MANILA, Philippines – Wellmed Dialysis Center owner Dr Bryan Sy will have to remain in detention at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) despite a warrantless arrest in a curious ruling by both a Manila court and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

DOJ Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Anna Doreen Devanadera ordered Tuesday evening, June 11, the continued detention of Sy although the legal basis of her order is "unclear," according to law professor Ted Te.

The case involves a fraudulent scheme in which Wellmed allegedly continued to charge Philhealth claims for patient members who were already dead. 

Complaints of estafa and falsification of documents have already been filed against Sy, and 9 other Wellmed employees, both bailable offenses.

Sy now has to wait for the DOJ ruling on whether to transmit charges to court, and then post bail.

Warrantless arrest

Sy went to the NBI headquarters on Monday, June 10, to comply to a subpoena. NBI agents arrested Sy without a warrant and has kept him since.

A warrantless arrest is only allowed under conditions set by the rules of criminal procedure: when the person commits the crime in the presence of the officer, or when there is probable cause to believe a crime has just been committed, or if it is a prisoner escaping from jail.

On Tuesday, June 11, the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 20 ordered the NBI to bring Sy to court on the latter’s petition for habeas corpus. The latin phrase for ‘produce the body,’ Sy questioned the legality of his arrest and detention.

Sy appeared in court Tuesday afternoon but by the end of the day, Manila RTC Branch 20 Judge Marivic Umali denied Sy’s petition for habeas corpus, but did not explicitly declare that the warrantless arrest was valid.

“That there is no probable cause for the warrantless arrest of the subject has been held not a valid ground for the issue of a writ of habeas corpus,” Umali wrote in her 3-page order.

Saying that a petition for habeas corpus only inquires into the cause of detention, Umali cited the Supreme Court’s Malaloan decision saying that “the facts presented before the Court show that Dr Bryan Sy was restrained of his liberty by virtue of a juridical process defined as a writ, warrant, subpoena, and other formal writing issued by authority of law.”

‘Confusing’

DOJ Prosecutor Devanadera pushed through with the inquest proceedings late Tuesday afternoon. Inquest proceedings are typically done on an individual arrested without a warrant, to rule whether the arrest was valid, and if there is probable cause to transmit charges to court, or both.

While waiting for the ruling, NBI agents can be heard outside her office talking about the legal theory of “continuing crime,” which Devanadera herself used when she ruled that the warrantless arrest of Bikoy video sharer Rodel Jayme was valid.

'Continuing crime' adheres to one of the requirements of a warrantless arrest, where the subject should be committing, or has just committed a crime.

Curiously, Devanadera in her ruling Tuesday evening also did not explicitly declare that the warrantless arrest was valid. She simply cited the Manila court’s ruling.

“Resolving the motion of respondent Bryan Sy insofar as the validity of the warrantless arrest, we find that the court has already ruled upon its validity in its order dated June 11, 2019,” said Devanadera in her 2-page minute resolution.

Te said that even with the court and prosecutor’s ruling combined, there is still no clear basis for keeping Sy detained.

“It is unclear what the basis is. The court ruling is confusing because the case it cites (Malaloan) involves a search, not an arrest, warrant. The prosecutor’s order is also unclear because it is obviously not an inquest case,” Te told Rappler.

Although Devanadera called it an inquest proceeding, Te said it lacked the requirements of one, such as citing the legal basis for a warrantless arrest.

“The Prosecutor should have resolved that question,” said Te.

Devanadera has deferred ruling on whether charges should be transmitted in court, but until she does, Sy will remain in NBI custody. 

He was whisked away by NBI agents after the inquest, and could not be interviewed by reporters. 

President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday, June 9, made a public call to the NBI to arrest Wellmed owners. The NBI arrested Sy only a day later, without a warrant.  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.

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