Ermita officials cleared in anti-narcotics raid case

·5 min read

SEVEN officials of Barangay Ermita, Cebu City who were accused of not cooperating during a drug bust in the barangay in November 2016, were acquitted by the Municipal Trial Court in Cities Branch 14 on May 25, 2022.

Read: 13 nabbed in Ermita drug raid

Then Ermita barangay councilors Mark Rizaldy Miral, Antonieto Flores, Ryan Jay Rosas, Alio Tamundo, Domingo Ando, Maria Buanghug and Wilbert Flores had been sued by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) for violating Article 233 of the Revised Penal Code.

The barangay officials were sued for “unlawfully and feloniously” refusing and failing to give assistance to stand as witnesses to the physical inventory of seized items, upon demand by PDEA Central Visayas (PDEA 7) agents on Nov. 6, 2016.

The seized items included P800,000 worth of shabu.

The PDEA had implemented a search warrant against Richard Cañete and Josephine Cuyno in Sitio Bato, Ermita, and arrested Cañete in the drug den along with 13 other drug users and visitors. Cuyno, the suspected drug den operator, was not present when the warrant was served.

Former PDEA 7 director Yogi Filemon Ruiz, the complainant, said their operatives waited for two hours, but no elected official from the barangay arrived to assist the anti-narcotics team that conducted the raid.

Miral testified that he was not informed nor had knowledge of the Nov. 6 PDEA operation.

On the other hand, Flores testified that on learning from the barangay administrator that there was a PDEA operation in the area, he, the administrator and some tanods (watchmen) went to the area only to be told by PDEA agents not to get involved.

Presiding Judge Irish Inabangan Amores stated in her eight-page decision that the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the barangay officials violated the law.

Amores asserted that PDEA 7 intelligence officer Jose Tomambini Jr. was not able to properly establish that they demanded the assistance of the village officials to act as witnesses of the drug bust.

“Firstly, it can be gleaned that the demand for assistance was not duly established. These allegations of Agent Tomambini are in itself unconvincing and incredible,” reads a portion of the decision.

The court also found “no evidence of motive on why the accused would refuse to render assistance to the PDEA agents in their operations.”

Amores penned that the prosecution’s witnesses had not encountered a similar refusal of assistance coming from the accused during their previous operations.

With this, Amores wrote that the “court finds it difficult to believe that the accused maliciously refused to render assistance to PDEA agents in their operation.”

“That said, for failure of the prosecution to prove the foregoing element of the crime, the court must lean to nothing but acquittal of the accused.”

In January 2017, Deputy Ombudsman Paul Elmer Clemente preventively suspended for six months then Ermita barangay captain Felicisimo “Imok” Rupinta and the seven councilors for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, over the incident.

The anti-graft office dismissed the criminal and administrative cases against Rupinta, following his death in an ambush on Nov. 23, 2017.

On Wednesday, June 1, Miral, now Ermita barangay captain, expressed his and his co-accused’s relief and happiness that their years-long ordeal had ended.

“We are very happy with the court’s decision of not guilty by the judge,” Miral told SunStar in Cebuano.

Miral said it was impossible for barangay officials to refuse to sign an inventory of an anti-illegal drug operation since it is their sworn duty to assist the police and other agencies if their presence is required.

Miral said the barangay councilors had served 18 months of suspension over the incident because after their six months of preventive suspension, a decision was handed down in 2018 ordering another one-year suspension over their administrative case.

PDEA 7 spokesperson Leia Alcantara said it would be up to the agency’s legal office to decide on what to do following the release of the decision by the court.

“Firstly, it can be gleaned that the demand for assistance was not duly established. These allegations of Agent Tomambini are in itself unconvincing and incredible,” reads a portion of the decision.

The court also found “no evidence of motive on why the accused would refuse to render assistance to the PDEA agents in their operations.”

Amores penned that the prosecution’s witnesses had not encountered a similar refusal of assistance coming from the accused during their previous operations.

With this, Amores wrote that the “court finds it difficult to believe that the accused maliciously refused to render assistance to PDEA agents in their operation.”

“That said, for failure of the prosecution to prove the foregoing element of the crime, the court must lean to nothing but acquittal of the accused.”

In January 2017, Deputy Ombudsman Paul Elmer Clemente preventively suspended for six months then Ermita barangay captain Felicisimo “Imok” Rupinta and the seven councilors for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, over the incident.

The anti-graft office dismissed the criminal and administrative cases against Rupinta, following his death in an ambush on Nov. 23, 2017.

On Wednesday, June 1, Miral, now Ermita barangay captain, expressed his and his co-accused’s relief and happiness that their years-long ordeal had ended.

“We are very happy with the court’s decision of not guilty by the judge,” Miral told SunStar in Cebuano.

Miral said it was impossible for barangay officials to refuse to sign an inventory of an anti-illegal drug operation since it is their sworn duty to assist the police and other agencies if their presence is required.

Miral said the barangay councilors had served 18 months of suspension over the incident because after their six months of preventive suspension, a decision was handed down in 2018 ordering another one-year suspension over their administrative case.

PDEA 7 spokesperson Leia Alcantara said it would be up to the agency’s legal office to decide on what to do following the release of the decision by the court. (IRT, BBT, CTL)

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