Lawyers of US missionary seek reinvestigation
Lawyers of the American missionary, who claimed he was a victim of a “tanim-bala” (plant-a-bullet) scam at Ninoy Aquino International Airport but was charged with violation of the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act, have asked for a reinvestigation of their client’s case.
Lane Michael White, who hails from Florida, was arrested while he was with his father, an American pastor, and Filipino stepmother at the domestic terminal.
The three had come from the United States and were supposed to board a plane for Coron, Palawan province.
In a motion filed on Oct. 14 in the Pasay Regional Trial Court Branch 119, Ernesto Arellano and Jasper Balboa said it was “but proper” to submit the case of White for reinvestigation as the “hasty proceedings before the senior assistant city prosecutor clearly defeated the constitutional rights of the accused.”
The motion did not say who should conduct the reinvestigation should the motion be granted, but a source at Branch 119 said the usual procedure, if the court acted favorably on the motion, was for the case to be sent back to the prosecutor’s office.
Until a new resolution was issued by the prosecutor’s office on that case, the source said, the information in court would be “pending.”
Based on court documents, the senior assistant prosecutor assigned to White’s case was Manuel Loteyro.
According to Arellano and Balboa, the incident that cited airport baggage inspectors Maria Elma Cena and Marvin Garcia supposedly finding a .22 cal. bullet in White’s baggage after it went through the X-ray scanner in the departure area of Terminal 4 took place on Sept. 17, but “surprisingly … the honorable assistant city prosecutor, at speed, filed the information the following day.”
The lawyers said the filing of the information against White was hastily done to preclude him from exhausting the remedy available to him under the law. “The accused was not even asked if he was willing to undergo a preliminary investigation upon signing a waiver of the provision of Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code.”
Arellano and Balboa noted that it was at this stage that their client could present evidence that would exonerate him.
The lawyers said the information against White was filed by the senior assistant city prosecutor “without the benefit of the accused effectively answering the charge against him,” even as the Supreme Court had ruled that “only by strict adherence to the established procedure may public perception of the impartiality of the prosecutor be enhanced.”
Denial of due process
White was denied due process when the senior assistant city prosecutor committed grave misconduct, clearly showing that he did not possess the cold neutrality of an impartial judge, according to Arellano and Balboa.
The lawyers added that the inquest proceedings were conducted without White “being assisted by a counsel of his own choice” as stipulated by the rules.
Arellano and Balboa said White—who reportedly was in the country for the first time when the incident took place—was oblivious of Philippine justice system and procedures.
Proof of this was the fact that White personally went to the National Bureau of Investigation after posting bail following his arrest and six-day detention, and filed a counter-complaint for planting of evidence against Cena and Garcia.
The lawyers said their client did this “instead of asking for a preliminary investigation.”
“If only the honorable senior assistant city prosecutor had done what is commendable under the circumstances, then [White] would not be left groping in the dark as regards his rights to be assisted by a counsel of his own choice and avail [himself] of a preliminary investigation,” they said.
“Wherefore, premises considered, it is most respectfully prayed of this honorable court that the foregoing motion be favorably granted and a reinvestigation be ordered so that the accused-movant may be assisted by a counsel of his own choice and be given the opportunity to present countervailing evidence that would free him from the anxiety of a public trial,” they added.
In his Oct. 21 order, Judge Pedro de Leon Gutierrez gave Cena and Garcia, who are acting as the private complainants in the case, 10 days upon receipt of the order within which to file their comment or opposition to the motion for reinvestigation.
“Upon receipt of said comment, the incident shall be deemed submitted for resolution of the court,” he said. De Leon set the arraignment of White on Nov. 25.
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