CAOAYAN, Ilocos Sur – “Everyone of the accused is presumed innocent unless proven guilty, that’s why the court must produce the accused so that a trial would be made.”
This was the pronouncement of Atty. Edwin Concepcion, Jr., counsel for Virginia Nicole Savellano Ong for the Cabugao Beach Resort (CBR) case in Cabugao, Ilocos Sur as he explained to the media why and how the case against Cabugao town mayor Josh Edward Cobangbang and 19 others became grave coercion and serious illegal detention, the latter of which is non-bailable.
In an exclusive interview with the Ilocos Sur Integrated Press (ISIP) for its weekly TV Program Kapihan Iti Amianan Media Forum last February 25 here, Concepcion said that it stemmed out when municipal employees, upon the orders of Mayor Cobangbang, padlocked the rooms without proper authority when Ong and the other occupants won’t leave the area.
CBR is owned by the town’s municipal government.
“Detained inside the rooms were Virginia Nicole Ong and her 4-year old child and they were only freed after a day when we asked the police to release them, but the crime has been done,” he said.
He also said that serious illegal detention is actually illegally detaining people for 5 days or more, even months or years, without the proper authorization but he said that the CBR case became a case of serious illegal detention because it involved a woman and a minor.
“Based on our laws, if it involves a woman or a minor, even though the detention is only a day or minutes, it becomes serious illegal detention. In fact, there were also several women employees of Ong who were detained, too,” he said.
He said that the padlocking of the rooms to “force the occupants to leave the area” is already a case of grave coercion which is bailable.
Asked why the act was illegal when in fact there was a municipal ordinance authorizing those involved in the case, Concepcion said that the ordinance only states that the CBR is open for lease and that there’s nothing in it authorizing those involved to padlock the area.
“Even then, the Sangguniang Bayan, under the Local Government Code, has no authority to detain anyone,” he said.
He also said that of the 20 accused, 4 have either surrendered or were arrested already and that the status of the remaining 16 are “at large.”
“Because the warrant of arrest has been issued, it is necessary for the court to acquire jurisdiction over their person before the accused can ask for a remedy or motion to quash, motion to bail or even bring the case to a higher court if they have the grounds to do so,” he said.
He also explained that since it involved a lot of people, “there was conspiracy where the act of one is the act of all.”
“A warrant of arrest doesn’t expire and if those accused won’t show up, they remain at large unless the court revokes their warrant,” he said.
When the issue cropped out that since the principal accused is a local chief executive and he was just discharging his duty, the matter should have been referred to the Sandiganbayan or the Ombudsman, but Concepcion said that the matter has already been resolved by the court even before the warrant of arrest was issued.
He also said that the panel of prosecutors earlier assigned by the Regional Trial Court dismissed the case for lack of probable cause, that’s why the aggrieved party filed a petition to review with the Department of Justice which the latter upheld.