MANILA—In order to protect the judges and the judicial system from possible threats and acts of violence in Mindanao, the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to designate special courts in Luzon and Visayas who will eventually hear the cases to be filed against the members of the Maute Group.
In his letter dated May 29, 2017, Justice Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II requested Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. Sereno to take the necessary and appropriate actions for the protection of the members of the judiciary who will eventually hear the cases to be filed against the members of the Maute Group who will be captured or who will surrender.
In his letter, Aguirre said such move is necessary so that “justice may run its course without fear or violence and threat thereof”.
”In order to protect our judges and the judicial system from possible threats and acts of violence, the Department of Justice most respectfully requests that special courts in Visayas or in Luzon be designated to hear criminal cases to be filed in relation to this rebellion and other crimes which may be filed against members of the Maute Terror Group and other armed groups tagged as terrorists,” Aguirre said in a separate statement.
Aguirre met with the prosecutors in Mindanao who aired their issues and concerns in prosecuting cases against members of the local terrorist group in the region.
It was pointed out that the security and safety of the prosecutors and judges should be a primary concern against any threats intimidation or against any untoward incident.
According to the records of the DOJ, it was listed that 89 Maute members are facing kidnapping and kidnapping with murder cases before the Malabang Regional Trial Court in Lanao Del Sur.
Another four Maute members were also charged before the same court with a case for illegal possession of improvised explosive device and incendiary devices.
Earlier, Sereno directed all courts in Mindanao to remain open amid the President’s decision to place the entire region under martial law.
Sereno also ordered all Mindanao judges to report “their current and continuing status to the Office of the Court Administrator through their executive judges.”
Mindanao judges are also ordered to report their “current and continuing status”. It shall be coursed with the Office of the Court of Administrator through their executive judges.
Aside from the Regional Trial Courts and Municipal Trial Courts in Mindanao areas. The judiciary has its Court of Appeals (CA) station in Cagayan de Oro City which handles appellate court cases in the entire Mindanao.
Aguirre assigned Undersecretary Reynante Orceo to coordinate efforts with Mindanao prosecutors who will be handling cases against members of the Maute terror group.
“Nagpadala ako ng isang Undersecretary doon to coordinate with the prosecutors of Mindanao kasi yung isang regional prosecutor natatakot kasi na may ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria),” Aguirre said, adding that Orceo went to Iligan City on Tuesday where he met with the local prosecutors.
He said their immediate concern is the inquest of Maute members arrested by security forces in their ongoing operation in Marawi City.
The DOJ chief explained that the military and the police earlier asked for assistance on what to do with Maute members who might be arrested in the ongoing operation since they only have 72 hours within which to act especially if there is detention without any warrant of arrest.
“Hiningi nila na kung pwede mag-assign kami ng kahit dalawang prosecutors kahit dun man lang sa affected areas though mahirap talaga unless sa loob ng military facilities gagawin para sa kaligtasan na din ng mga prosecutors,” Aguirre noted.
Aguirre also said that DOJ is helping in the fine-tuning of the implementing rules and regulations as well as the issuance of general orders in relation to President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law proclamation in Mindanao.
Aguirre said they are working on how the DOJ and the courts would function in areas covered by martial law.
“We are just helping kung merong fine-tuning katulad ng proclamation ng martial law, general orders, katulad ng dati rati during the Marcos time merong military tribunals, yun ang aayusin natin how would the DOJ and the courts function when there is martial law, very specific yan hindi nawawala ang functions nila during martial law and even during the declaration of the suspension of the writ of habas corpus,” Aguirre told reporters during a press briefing on Monday.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in the entire Mindanao seeks to neutralize Maute terror group members who carried out attacks in Marawi City.
Aguirre said the Chief Executive is in possession of information and reports that are not known to ordinary citizens which could have been used as basis for the declaration.
“The proclamation is in accordance with the Constitution and necessary to avoid the dismemberment of our nation. The President is entitled to be presumed to be regularly performing the duties of his office, of course those who opposed the decision can go to the SC,” Aguirre said when sought for comment.
Under the 1987 Constitution, the President has the authority to declare martial in any part of the country or the entire country for a period of 60 days but Congress, voting jointly, may revoke or extend the proclamation.