Cops detain lawyers monitoring inventory of raided Makati bar

MANILA, Philippines – For monitoring a police inventory of a drug raid, 3 lawyers were detained at the Makati Police Station on Thursday, August 16, after cops arrested them for alleged obstruction of justice.

Jan Vincent Sambrano Soliven, Lenie Rocel Elmido Rocha and Romulo Bernard Bustamante Alarkon are the lawyers for the Time in Manila bar in Makati, which was raided by the Southern Police District (SPD) on Saturday, August 11, for allegedly selling party drugs to customers.

The lawyers were monitoring the inventory of the bar on Thursday, when they were apprehended for taking down notes and photos as the police opened cabinets.

“The police opened the cabinets, took their inventory, and then turned to my three young lawyers and said they had no authority to be there. My lawyers respectfully said they were legal counsels of the owner and were just sent by the firm to take notes and photograph the opening of the cabinets,” said Diane Desierto, a partner of the firm where the lawyers work.

The Desierto & Desierto law firm represents one of the owners of the Time in Manila bar, where police reportedly seized sachets of suspected cocaine, ecstacy capsules and tablets, marijuana and drug paraphernalia when they raided it on Saturday.

Desierto said the cops told the lawyers they will be charged with obstruction of justice.

Desierto, a professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Notre Dame in the USA, pointed out that “passive and quiet acts” of taking notes and photos are not covered by what is considered obstruction of justice under Presidential Decree No. 1829.

“We were unable to reach our young lawyers when they were taken because they were not permitted to make any calls to counsel or their families, and neither were they informed of what the charge was against them but instead they were intimidated and verbally harassed,” Desierto said.

Desierto said that as of 8:30 pm Thursday, the lawyers were still detained at the Makati Police Station.

Abuse?

According to a report on Inquirer.net, the police found bank documents, cash, and suspected drugs during Thursday’s inventory.

High-ranking officials of the SPD and National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), including Director Chief Superintendent Guillermo Eleazar, served the search warrant on Thursday.

Desierto said their client requested the presence of lawyers during the inventory to make sure the cops do not plant evidence.

Desierto said they will file petitions once the courts open on Friday, August 17.

“I narrate the circumstances above because it is a firsthand account witnessing to a demonstrated potential for abuse in the Philippines’ anti-drug operations,” Desierto said.

Desierto said that the “arbitrary arrest and detention” of their lawyers violate even International laws, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which the Philippines is a party to.

“This is the first instance I have ever heard that the police have started going after the lawyers directly, using 'obstruction of justice' as their trump card. As of this writing, the police have not shown any report or evidence of what amounts to “obstruction of justice” from the note-taking and banal photography that those three young lawyers did,” Desierto said.

Desierto added: “I cannot help but wonder what Asian Society of International Law President and Presidential Legal Adviser on Human Rights Secretary Harry Roque – my former law professor at UP Law – will say to this course of events on the ground.”Rappler.com

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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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