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RTC judge refutes accusations

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a letter sent to us by Executive Judge Lelu P. Contreras of the Regional Trial Court based in Virac, Catanduanes to refute the accusations hurled against her as reported as headline story in Bicol Mail’s issue of March 16, 2017. We received the letter thru email last March 24, way past our presswork deadline last week, hence, this belated publication of the said letter in its full, unedited form. THANK YOU for giving me a space in your widely-circulated newspaper to air my side as I have already been castigated and crucified in the social media based on unfounded and malicious accusations. The Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) of Catanduanes has hastily passed its Resolution last March 13, 2017 seeking for my relief from the Court, without giving me an opportunity to be heard. I was even made to believe that the session on March 13 was only for the first reading of the title of the Resolution and that the second reading will be conducted during the next session on March 20, only to find out that they lumped up the first and second readings in one session. Upon my arrival at the PHILJA Training Center, Tagaytay City, for my scheduled lecture to the RTC Clerks of Court of Regions 7 and 9, I called up the SP Secretary and inquired about the proceedings. He explained that he had no control over the proceedings but he advised me to write a letter requesting for an audience during the next session. Outright I emailed to him my request, which was included in the agenda during the session last March 20. Unfortunately, the majority of the SP members opted to refer my letter to the Committee on Justice, which clearly shows that they intentionally delayed my chance to clarify the accusations that they have hurled against me. Although I have already addressed these accusations during the press conference that I have called for last March 15, I deemed it wise to send this letter to you so I could also reach out to the readers of your newspaper. Issuance of the Search Warrant for the drug laboratory It is not true that I delayed the issuance of the search warrant for the drug laboratory. Neither is it true that I caused the escape of the suspected owners/operators of the said drug laboratory. The records kept in this Court show that the application for search warrant was received by the office on November 26, 2016 at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon and the search warrant was issued at 5:55 o’clock of the same day. The reason why it took almost three (3) hours for me to process the application was because it was only the applicant, who executed his affidavit, without a witness, as required by the Rules of Court. It was only, then, that P/Supt. Alex S. Pederio, OIC-Regional Intelligence Division, executed his Affidavit, using the computer of one of the stenographers. It is outrageous that I am being accused of late issuance of the search warrant and for having issued it only two (2) days after the primary suspects had fled, because, at the time that I was shown by P/SSupt. Pederio documents and photographs at around 7:00 o’clock in the evening of November 25, 2016, Jayson Uy, also known as Paulo, and company, had already left the premises of the warehouse on board a Montero at around 3:30 o’clock that afternoon. Let me give you the circumstances surrounding the issuance of the search warrant. Friday, November 25, 2016 around 2:30 o’clock P.M. I received a text message from P/CI Charles de Leon of the Provincial Public Safety Company at Camp Francisco Camacho, here in Virac, asking if he could call me and I answered that I was conducting a hearing. He, then, replied that he would call afterwards. But I informed him that I will be delivering a message at the closing program of the 5-day live-in training on the Modified Therapeutic Community Modality for the Drug Surrenderers and I told him that I will just text him once I am free. Around 6:00 o’clock P.M. I left the venue of the training at around 6:00 o’clock in the evening. On my way home, I texted P/CI de Leon asking him if he were at Camp Camacho so that I could just drop by since it is located along the way. When he did not reply, I decided to drop by Camp Camacho to find out what it was that he wanted to call me. It was there that I met P/Supt. Pederio, who, together with P/CI de Leon, informed me about a big warehouse in Palta Small which has all the indications that it is being used as a drug laboratory. I was taken by surprise as I have never imagined that there is such drug laboratory in Catanduanes, especially in Virac. They wanted to apply for a search warrant but I told them that, with the documents that they have presented to me, there is no probable cause since no one had seen what was actually inside the warehouse. They explained that personnel from the Bureau of Fire Protection (accompanied by police operatives) went to the warehouse twice in the guise of inspecting the electrical installation, but they were denied entry. They asked me what they could do to gain access to the warehouse. I, then, mentioned building permit for the construction of the warehouse and business license for the operation of the warehouse, which information they could secure from the Mayor of Virac. Since I have the contact number of Mayor Samuel V. Laynes, I texted him asking if he were in Virac. When he replied that he was in his house, I texted him back that we will go and see him. Past 7:00 o’clock P.M. We (P/Supt. Pederio, PCI de Leon, P/CI Ronatay and I) arrived at the Mayor’s house. I introduced to Mayor Laynes P/Supt. Pederio, who presented to him the same documents earlier shown to me and inquired if there was a building permit and/or business license issued to the said warehouse. Mayor Laynes, who had just first assumed office last June 30, committed to inform the police officers in the morning since he had to inquire from the Municipal Engineer. Saturday, November 26, 2016 Around 8:30 o’clock A.M. While I was at Virac District Jail looking into the reported outbreak of diarrhea among the fifteen (15) inmates, P/CI Ronatay texted me asking if he could call. I texted him back and told him that if he were at the police station, I will just drop by since it is just at the back of Virac District Jail. When P/CI Ronatay did not reply, I left the jail and passed by the police station only to be informed that he was not there. So, I proceeded to the Hall of Justice for some paper works. Around 9:00 o’clock A.M. While I was walking along the lobby of the Hall of Justice towards my office, P/CI Ronatay called up and informed me that Mayor Laynes told him that there was no building permit for the construction of the warehouse and that the contract of sub-lease between Angelica Balmadrid and a certain Jayson Uy has a provision for the sub-lessor to inspect the premises if there is any violation of the law. So, they (Mayor Laynes, Ms. Balmadrid, P/CI Ronatay and some police officers) proceeded to the site. Around 10:30 o’clock A.M. P/CI Ronatay called again and informed me that Ms. Balmadrid opened the door of the warehouse and they were met by noxious smell and that, based on the evaluation of P/CI Josephine Macura-Clemen, forensic chemist who was with them, it was, indeed, a drug laboratory. P/CI Ronatay asked me what they were going to do. So I advised him to apply for a search warrant to enable them to search the place thoroughly. 3:00 o’clock P.M. The application for search warrant was filed with the office. When I went over the documents, I told the applicant that he had no personal knowledge of the surveillance conducted by the intel operatives since his information came from P/Supt. Pederio. It was only, then, that P/Supt. Pederio prepared his Affidavit using the computer of one of the court stenographers. When I was personally examining P/CI Ronatay, P/CSupt. Buenafe and company arrived and we had some conversation while waiting for P/Supt. Pederio to finish preparing his affidavit. 5:55 o’clock P.M. Even when I was earlier informed of the operation conducted by the police operatives that led to the discovery of the drug laboratory, I still conducted a thorough examination of both the applicant and his witness. It was at 5:55 o’clock that I issued Search Warrant No. 2016-55. When P/Supt Pederio inquired if they could apply for search warrant at around 7:00 o’clock in the evening of November 25, 2016, they have not yet prepared any document to support their application. Even if I acceded to their request, they have to prepare all the necessary documents, like affidavit of both the applicant and the witness, which might take more than an hour. Thereafter, I will personally examine the applicant and the witness exhaustively, which could take about an hour. The earliest that I could issue the search warrant would be around 10:00 o’clock in the evening when, at this time, the owners/operators of the drug laboratory have already left the premises seven (7) hours ago and en route to Hilawan, San Andres where they managed to board a motorized banca that brought them to Caramoan, Camarines Sur. However, I would not violate my sworn duty to determine probable cause, as required by Section 5, Rule 126 of the Rules of Court, just for the sake of accommodating the Philippine National Police in its war against drugs. The documents presented to me by P/Supt. Pederio were photographs of the building (aerial view and left-side view) and Statement of Electric Consumption covering several months, which are not sufficient to establish probable cause of the existence of drug laboratory. I would never renege in my duty in acting on application for search warrant. In fact, one time when it was urgent to issue search warrant, I obliged even when I had to go to the office at 9:00 o’clock in the v evening, without the assistance of a stenographer. I have issued many search warrants on weekends and after office hours because the police officers and the deponents wanted to avoid being seen by the court personnel. Thus, I asked questions in English, at the same time encoding them in the computer, translated them in t he dialect and, then, encoded the answers already translated in English, and printed the searching questions and the search warrant. Whenever I issue search warrants for violation of R.A. 9165, my staff and I are on call 24/7 for the return since the drug items have to be transported to the mainland for laboratory examination because I do not want to cause the delay in the filing of the case for inquest since the ferryboat to Tabaco City travels at 8:00 o’clock in the morning and 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon. When I did not receive a reply from PCI de Leon when I texted him if he were inside Camp Camacho, I could have just gone home without dropping by. But, because I was concerned with what he wanted to take up with me, and, thinking that maybe there was just a delay in the transmission of messages by Smart, I decided to drop by Camp Camacho and looked for him. Likewise, because I was concerned of the welfare of the people of Catanduanes, instead of leaving P/Supt. Pederio and PCI de Leon to figure out how they could gather evidence to establish probable cause as a basis for the issuance of a search warrant, I even suggested that they verify from the office of the Mayor if there was a permit for the construction of the building or a license to operate the business. Because of the urgency of the situation, I even helped them in contacting the Mayor, instead of waiting for the next working day. I even accompanied them to the house of the Mayor so that I, too, could explain to him why I just could not issue a searc h warrant at that time and request him to assist the law enforcement officers to gain entry in the building if, indeed, there was no building permit. It is very obvious that the Honorable SP Members, who passed the Resolution, are not informed of the date and time of the escape of Jayson/Paulo Uy and companions, as well as the actual time of the filing of the application and subsequent issuance of the search warrant. They should have first verified the dates before accusing me of delaying the issuance of the search warrant. Congressional Inquiry held on February 23, 2017 I was on board the fastcraft from Tabaco City to San Andres, Catanduanes last February 23, 2017, after my lecture to the RTC Clerks of Court of Regions 11 and 12 at the PHILJA Training Center, when I was informed of the congressional inquiry on the drug laboratory. I texted Mr. Rudy Rojas, Chief of Staff of Congressman Cesar V. Sarmiento, inquiring about it. I even told him that, if the congressional inquiry was about the search warrant, I should have been informed beforehand. Mr. Rojas explained that he was not in charge of the inquiry and that the issue that would be taken up was on transportation, not the search warrant. He added that the congressional inquiry was open to the public, so I could attend even without an invitation. Shortly, I received a text message informing me that the power point presentation by the PNP Provincial Director indicated that I was with the group that entered the building in the morning of November 26, 2017, which was refuted by Mayor Laynes of Virac, Catanduanes, who was instr umental in getting the law enforcement officers inside the building even without a search warrant. I, then, decided to attend the inquiry to clear the erroneous presentation by the PNP. The slide that was flashed on the screen showed that I was inside the building at 9:45 o’clock in the morning of Saturday, November 26, 2017, together with Mayor Laynes, Angelica Balmadrid and some law enforcement officers. Under oath, I refuted this because there was no truth in it. Even the PNP Regional Director, P/CSupt. Melvin Ramon Buenafe, clarified that, based on the report submitted to him, which he read before the members of the House Committee, I was not among those who entered the building at that particular time. My mind was focused on the power point presentation where my name was mentioned. Thus, when I was asked by the members of the House Committee, I kept on denying having entered the building, without realizing that they were already referring to the premises. When I returned to the hall, after the recess, I was again asked by the members of the House Committee about my presence in the premises. It was, then, that I realized that they referred to the premises not the building. Outright, I explained that I did not enter the building but that I was in the vicinity as, in fact, I even proceeded to the San Andres pier to meet the Regional Director. I apologized to the Committee since it was just some miscommunication because I thought they were asking me about my presence inside the building. It is but unfortunate that the Honorable SP Members disregarded my explanation and apology to the House Committee and continuously branded me as a liar. Presence in the premises prior to the issuance of the Search Warrant After taking my lunch on November 26, 2017 and having been informed that the building was, indeed, a drug laboratory, I decided to go to the site, with my Stenographer, so I would have a better picture of the place that will be the subject of the search warrant. I have been requiring applicants for search warrant to attach a sketch of the vicinity where the house to be searched is located, as well as floor plan of the house. In fact, some applicants even attached pictures of the house and the surrounding area. When I received the application for search warrant for the drug laboratory, there was neither a sketch nor a picture attached. However, I did not require the applicant to produce a sketch and pictures since I have personally seen the premises. Comments/opinions by former RTC Judge Romulo P. Atencia In their desire to taint my name and nail me down, the Honorable SP Members cited the comments/opinions of former RTC Judge Romulo P. Atencia, who used to have a regular column in the Catanduanes Tribune, a local weekly newspaper, relative to the drug case filed against Leo Renn Luyon Chavez. The Honorable SP Members failed to mention that Atty. Atencia is the counsel of Leo Renn Luyon Chavez. Naturally, he would speak in defense of his client. Added to this is the fact that I have inhibited in all the cases being handled by Atty. Atencia because of his scandalous, offensive, menacing, scurrilous language and behavior to the Court during the hearing in Crim. Cases No. 5384, 5385 and 5399 last July 9, 2015. I could have outright cited him in direct contempt of court and sent him to jail, but I did not out of pity since he was tied to a wheelchair and could not even stand on his own. Technical Working Group for the Community-Based Treatment and Rehabilitation Program for Surrendered Drug Users (CBTR TWG) The Honorable SP Members are, either, uninformed misinformed or mal-informed of the functions of the CBTR TWG, even when three (3) of them are members, namely: Hon. Lorenzo T. Templonuevo, Jr., Hon. Rafael C. Zuniega and Hon. Giovanni A. Balmadrid. Otherwise, they would not have declared that it is a quasi-judicial agency and they would not have questioned my position as Vice-Chairman. Section 3 of Executive Order No. 20 s. 2016, which organized the CBTR TWG, enumerated its functions, as follows: a. Recommends to the Local Chief Executives, Sangguniang Panlalawigan and Sangguniang Bayan on matters pertaining to the CBTR; b. Oversees implementation of the CBTR in accordance with the approved policies and guidelines; c. Recommends revisions, changes, modification of strategies in favor of the program; d. Consolidates monitoring reports from various stakeholders for submission to the Judiciary; e. Issuance of Individual Completion Report of Surrendered Drug Users for submission to the Judiciary; f. Monitors the LGU CBTR Core Teams; and g. Performs such other functions as deemed necessary. None of the abovementioned functions shows that the CBTR TWG is a quasi-judicial agency. It is but unfortunate that the members of the CBTR TWG representing the Sangguniang Panlalawigan have not attended the various conferences/meetings/workshops that led to the formation of the CBTR TWG. Had they actively participated, they would have known my involvement and the reason why I was named Vice-Chairman. The drug users of Catanduanes, who surrendered during the Operation “Tok-Hang” of the PNP, undergo a Community-Based Treatment Rehabilitation Program through judicial proceedings, applying Section 54 of R.A. 9165, which provides for the Voluntary Submission of a Drug Dependent to Confinement, Treatment and Rehabilitation. The CBTR TWG is composed of chiefs of government offices, to wit PNP, DILG, DOH, DOLE, DepEd, DTI, TESDA, DENR-PENRO, Judiciary, Public Information Agency, Provincial Health Office, Executive and Legislative Offices of the Province, Provincial Prosecution Office, Public Attorney’s Office, Parole and Probation Administration, as well as the religious sector, who are united in our aim to provide “referral, treatment, rehabilitation and community re-integration interventions that are community-based directed towards the physical, emotional psychological, vocational, social and spiritual change/enhancement of a drug dependent to enable him to live without dangerous drugs, enjoy the fullest life compatible with his capabilities and potentials and render him able to become a law-abiding and productive member of the community”. The members of the SP, who passed the Resolution requesting for my relief, do not represent the people of Catanduanes, but only their vested interests. PBM Giovanni Balmadrid, who spearheaded the passage of said Resolution, is the second cousin of Angelica Balmadrid, the owner of the property where the drug laboratory was constructed. I have been with the judiciary for twenty-nine (29) years, eleven (11) years of which were spent dispensing/ administering justice. I have not done anything to jeopardize my position, my work as dispenser of justice, and the people of Catanduanes. I am passionate with my work and I love serving the judiciary and the people of Catanduanes, even beyond the call of duty, and I have not reneged in my sworn duty as a magistrate. Thank you and More Power to You and your newspaper! LELU P. CONTRERAS Executive Judge Presiding Judge – Branch 43 Acting Presiding Judge – Branch 42

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