CASE BrieF NO. 2006-0925

CASE: Ma. Estrella D. Martinez vs. Director General Leandro Mendoza, Chief Superintendent Nestorio Gualberto, Sr., Superintendent Leonardo Espina, Sr., Superintendent Jesus Versoza, and John Does [G.R. No. 153795 August 17, 2006]

PONENTE: Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban

SUBJECT:

  1. Remedial Law:
    i. Habeas Corpus – Purpose

Habeas corpus may not be used as a means of obtaining evidence on the whereabouts of a person, or as a means of finding out who has specifically abducted or caused the disappearance of a certain person.”

FACTS:

Michael Martinez was allegedly abducted and taken away by seven (7) persons in the morning of November 19, 2001. The abduction was reported by Estrella Martinez to the Barangay, the Parañaque Police and the Anti-Kidnapping Task Force at Camp Crame.

It appears that in the evening of November 19, 2001, the CIDG of the PNP presented before the media a certain Phillip Medel, Jr., who allegedly executed a statement confessing to his participation in the killing of Dorothy Jones, a.k.a. Nida Blanca, naming Michael Martinez as the person who introduced him to Rod Lauren Strunk, the husband of Nida Blanca and alleged mastermind in her killing. In a televised interview with a media reporter on November 26, 2001, Medel narrated that he saw Michael Martinez at the CIDG at Camp Crame where he was being detained, and which the former allegedly reiterated when he talked to Robert Paul Martinez, a brother of Michael, on November 27, 2001 and he even described the clothes Michael was then wearing, which were the same clothes worn by him when he was abducted. Estrella Martinez then made representations with CIDG for the release of Michael Martinez or that she be allowed to see him, but the same were not granted.

Estrella Martinez filed a petition for habeas corpus with RTC against PNP Director General Leandro Mendoza and other high officials of the PNP (Mendoza et. al.), which is investigating the Nida Blanca murder case, for them to produce before said court the person of Michael Martinez or to justify the continued detention of his liberty.

At the hearing, Mendoza et. al. submitted a RETURN wherein they vehemently and categorically denied any participation or involvement in the alleged abduction or disappearance of Michael Martinez as the latter was never confined and detained by them or in their custody at any given time. Mendoza et. al. thus prayed for the dismissal of the petition for habeas corpus.

Finding that Mendoza et. al.’s denial pale beside Medel’s positive assertion that Michael Martinez is in their custody, the RTC, in a Decision, directed Mendoza et. al. to produce the body of Michael Martinez.

Mendoza et. al. filed a notice of appeal on the ground that the Decision is contrary to law and the evidence.

The CA agreed with the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) that Medel’s credibility was highly suspect. The CA relied on the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties. It held that, the CIDG itself is equally concerned with the safety of Michael Martinez relative to the final resolution of the Nida Blanca slay. For he is definitely a vital witness to his case. The PNP-CIDG has no motive whatsoever to abduct him as it never did.

Hence, Petition for Review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court was filed by Estrella Martinez.

ISSUES:

A.       What is the purpose of the writ of habeas corpus?
B.       Is the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus the proper remedy when forcible taking and disappearance — not arrest and detention — have been alleged?
C.       Whether Estrella Martinez sufficiently proved that Michael Martinez was in the custody of Mendoza et.al.

RULING:

A.       The grant of relief in a habeas corpus proceeding is not predicated on the disappearance of a person, but on his illegal detention. Habeas corpus generally applies to “all cases of illegal confinement or detention by which any person is deprived of his liberty or by which the rightful custody of any person is withheld from the person entitled thereto.”

“The ultimate purpose of the writ of habeas corpus is to relieve a person from unlawful restraint. It is devised as a speedy relief from unlawful restraint. It is a remedy intended to determine whether the person under detention is held under lawful authority.”

If Mendoza et. al. are neither detaining nor restraining the applicant or the person on whose behalf the petition for habeas corpus has been filed, then it should be dismissed. This Court has ruled that this remedy has one objective — to inquire into the cause of detention of a person:

“The purpose of the writ is to determine whether a person is being illegally deprived of his liberty. If the inquiry reveals that the detention is illegal, the court orders the release of the person. If, however, the detention is proven lawful, then the habeas corpus proceedings terminate. The use of habeas corpus is thus very limited.”

Habeas corpus may not be used as a means of obtaining evidence on the whereabouts of a person, or as a means of finding out who has specifically abducted or caused the disappearance of a certain person.

When Mendoza et. al. making the return of the writ state that they have never had custody over the person who is the subject of the writ, the petition must be dismissed, in the absence of definite evidence to the contrary. “The return of the writ must be taken on its face value considering that, unless it is in some way convincingly traversed or denied, the facts stated therein must be taken as true” for purposes of the habeas corpus proceedings.

B.       When forcible taking and disappearance — not arrest and detention — have been alleged, the proper remedy is not habeas corpus proceedings, but criminal investigation and proceedings.

Abduction or kidnapping is a crime punishable by law. Investigations with regard to crimes are first and foremost the duty of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), not the courts. There are instances when members of the PNP — the agency tasked with investigating crimes — are suspected of being responsible for the disappearance of a person, who is the subject of habeas corpus proceedings. This fact will not convert the courts into — or authorize them through habeas corpus proceedings to be — forefront investigators, prosecutors, judges and executioners all at the same time. Much as this Court would want to resolve these disappearances speedily — as in the present case, when it is interested in determining who are responsible for the disappearance and detention of Michael (if, indeed, he is being detained) — it would not want to step beyond its reach and encroach on the duties of other duly established agencies. Instead of rendering justice to all, it may render injustice if it resorts to shortcuts through habeas corpus proceedings. In fine, this proceeding for habeas corpus cannot be used as a substitute for a thorough criminal investigation.

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), specifically the People’s Law Enforcement Board (PLEB), is tasked to investigate abuses or wrongdoings by members of the PNP. Thus, if they or the NBI abuse or fail to perform their duties, as indicated in this case, people may refer their complaints to the PLEB, which should be part of their arsenal in the battle to resolve cases in which members of the PNP are suspected of having caused the disappearance of anyone. Removing criminals from the ranks of those tasked to promote peace and order and to ensure public safety would be a big axe blow to the mighty oak of lawlessness. Let each citizen contribute a blow, puny though it may be when done alone; but collectively we can, slowly but surely, rid our society of disorder and senseless disappearances.

C.       Estrella Martinez failed to establish by competent and convincing evidence that the missing person, on whose behalf the Petition was filed, is under the custody of Mendoza et. al.

Unfortunately, her evidence is insufficient to convince the Court that they have Michael in their custody. Moreover, “a writ of habeas corpus should not issue where it is not necessary to afford the petitioner relief or where it would be ineffective.”

When Mendoza et. al. deny custody of an allegedly detained person, Estrella Martinez has the duty of establishing the fact of detention by competent and convincing evidence; otherwise, the writ of habeas corpus cannot be issued.

Considering that Mendoza et. al. have persistently denied having Michael in their custody, and absent any decisive proof to rebut their denial, the Court is constrained to affirm the CA’s dismissal of the Petition for habeas corpus.
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THINGS DECIDED:

A) The ultimate purpose of the writ of habeas corpus is to relieve a person from unlawful restraint. It is devised as a speedy relief from unlawful restraint. It is a remedy intended to determine whether the person under detention is held under lawful authority..

B) Habeas corpus may not be used as a means of obtaining evidence on the whereabouts of a person, or as a means of finding out who has specifically abducted or caused the disappearance of a certain person.

C) When forcible taking and disappearance — not arrest and detention — have been alleged, the proper remedy is not habeas corpus proceedings, but criminal investigation and proceedings.

 ‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


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