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By Francis Allan L. Angelo

WHAT’S wrong with taking photographs of a public official’s property?

A legal luminary and former president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines said Tara Yap, photojournalist of The Daily Guardian, did not violate any law when she went near  the mansion of Iloilo Gov. Niel D. Tupas Sr. in MV Hechanova, Jaro, Iloilo City.

Atty. Hans Sayno said Yap did not violate Tupas’ privacy as she was outside the governor’s multimillion peso mansion while working on an investigative report assignment.

The Daily Guardian assigned Yap to check reports that a new structure was being constructed beside Tupas’ mansion. The building is believed to be the house of Nielette “Tweety” Tupas-Balleza, the governor’s only daughter, who works as an executive assistant at the Office of the Governor.

Sayno said the Constitution guarantees the people’s right to information, particularly the conduct and lifestyle of public officials and employees such as Gov. Tupas and Tupas-Balleza.

Sayno said if Yap took pictures of the Tupas residence outside its gates, “I don’t think she violated the privacy of the household.”

“Taking pictures of a house is just like looking at the building. In the case of a camera, the image is registered in the memory chip of the instrument. There is nothing wrong if you take pictures of a house, especially that of a public official,” Sayno said over Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo.

Sayno said the extent of the right to privacy of a public official is less compared to a private individual.

“The penumbra of a public official’s right to privacy is lower than that of a private person. Public officials should expect public scrutiny of their lifestyle and conduct. In the case of Tara Yap, she is a media practitioner and the Constitution guarantees her right to expression and press freedom,” Sayno said.

Sayno said Yap could have intruded the governor’s privacy if she went inside parts of the house which are normally not considered public.

“If Ms. Yap went to the bathroom of Gov. Tupas’ house and took pictures of his toothbrush and how he brushes his teeth, there might have been invasion of property. But if she was situated outside the house, she did not intrude the privacy of the house,” he added.

Atty. Dennis Ventilacion, legal counsel of The Daily Guardian, said Yap was working as a journalist when she went to the vicinity of Tupas’ mansion.

Ventilacion said public officials are subject to scrutiny, particularly their lifestyle, and must allow the public to look into their wealth as mandated by Republic Act No. 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees).

RA 6713 also mandates that “public officials and employees and their families shall lead modest lives appropriate to their positions and income. They shall not indulge in extravagant or ostentatious display of wealth in any form.”

Ventilacion said the acts of Tupas’ caretakers to grab Yap’s belongings and bring her inside the mansion against her will can be considered theft and illegal detention.

“If you restrain a person in a certain area against her will, that is illegal detention. If you grab her personal things without her permission, that is theft,” said Ventilacion who is a member of the IBP board of directors.

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IBP president cries foul on cop’s Bukas Kotse revelation

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Iloilo Chapter challenged the Police Regional Office (PRO-6) to substantiate claims that a lawyer is coddling members of the Bukas Kotse gang.

Atty. Marven Daquilanea, IBP-Iloilo president, said it is unfair for the police to declare that a lawyer is protecting the notorious car thieves.

“I felt slighted when I learned about the news. It is unfair for the police characterize one of our colleagues to be a coddler of that gang without identifying that lawyer and presenting any proof,” Daquilanea said in a phone interview.

Last Thursday, S/Supt. Edgar Layon, PRO-6 chief of directorial staff, was quoted in a radio and newspaper interview as saying that a lawyer, a mediaman and a businessman are protecting the Bukas Kotse gang.

Layon was quoted to have cited intelligence reports as basis for his statements although he did not identify the alleged coddlers.

Daquilanea said there are more than 870 IBP members in Iloilo whose reputations are at stake after the police tagged one of them as a protector of thieves.

“If they are not sure about the information, which is based on raw intelligence, they could have just said three persons are suspected of protecting the Bukas Kotse gang. The police should have not characterized these suspects without any solid proof. Even if this information is true, it is only lawyer against more than 870 others, so why drag the whole community in a state of suspense,” Daquilanea said.

Daquilanea said the word “coddler” also undermines their work as lawyers as they extend legal assistance to suspected criminals.

“Regardless the status of our clients, we are morally and legally obliged to help them even if they are guilty. The police should have qualified what kind of protection is being given by this lawyer to the Bukas Kotse gang – financial, material, whatever. If we give legal aid to persons supposed to be involved with this gang, are we technically in cahoots with them? That is unfair,” he added.

Daquilanea said the PRO-6 should gather proof and file cases against the alleged Bukas Kotse gang protectors “to clear the air of any doubts and rumors.”

“If they have proof, they should file cases and arrest these persons. If they don’t have any evidence, they’d better keep their silence until they are certain with their pronouncements. If we are just out to embarrass or ridicule other people sans any proof, we might as well shut up,” Daquilanea said.

Lea Lara, Iloilo Business Club (IBC) executive director, said they are also troubled by the information that filtered out from PRO-6.

“It’s bad for business, especially us local investors. We are asking the authorities to prosecute and identify these persons if they are really involved to clear things up. We are very much affected by this news,” Lara said.

MISQUOTED

Layon yesterday said he was misquoted in the radio and newspaper items. He said the interviewees asked a leading question if the aforementioned persons are protecting car thieves.

“I answered maybe but the information did not come directly from me. I did not confirm it,” Layon said.

Layon made the disclaimer after C/Supt. Isagani Cuevas, PRO-6 director, summoned him to clarify the report.

Cuevas said they have no information as regards the involvement of a lawyer, a businessman and a mediaman with the Bukas Kotse gang that has been plaguing the cities of Iloilo and Bacolod.

Layon said he will not anymore grant media interviews following the fiasco.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

AROUND 200 drainage pipes are spewing wastes into the Iloilo River, according to a group of lawyers pushing for the enforcement of environmental laws in Iloilo City.

Atty. Norberto Posecion said their recent survey of the Iloilo River showed that more or less 200 pieces of 600-millimeter pipes are jutting out of the river and discharge liquid wastes.

Posecion said their survey covered the areas of Muelle Loney in Iloilo City proper to Carpenters Bridge in Mandurriao-Molo districts.

“It is possible that there are more pipes down there which will only be visible during low tide. And we believe that these drainage pipes disgorge pollutants into the river,” Posecion said.

Posecion, along with members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Iloilo headed by Atty. Marven Daquilanea, is leading the legal offensive to implement ecological laws in Iloilo City.

The Iloilo River survey was conducted in preparation for the filing of mandamus case against the Iloilo City government.

The mandamus suit seeks to force City Hall to clear the Iloilo River of obstructions and all types of pollution.

Posecion said they have to force the city government to clean the river as the problem has been there for a long time already.

“When do we act? When the river is already dead?” he added.

The Iloilo City government had said that untreated waste from no less than 100 of the 180 barangays of the city is being discharged into the river.

A recent study by the University of the Philippines-Visayas showed that the Iloilo River has been experiencing low dissolved oxygen. Dissolved oxygen is a measure of a water body’s ability to support aquatic life. Low dissolved oxygen can lead to fishkill and loss of other aquatic organisms.

The study also showed a high prevalence of intestinal parasitic infections among children living in urban slums along the river.

Thirty other barangays from the nearby towns of Leganes, Oton and San Miguel, Iloilo also drain their sewerage into the river.

Engr. Noel Hechanova, City Environment and Natural Resources Office chief, said some half a million gallons of wastewater drain into the river every day.

The IBP earlier filed a mandamus case against the city government relative to the conversion of the Calajunan dumpsite in Mandurriao into a sanitary landfill.

The lawyers said the conversion of the open dump should have been implemented sometime in 2006 in keeping with the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2001.

The law stipulates that open dumpsites must be converted into landfills three years after its implementation.

Five years after the enforcement of the law, only sanitary landfills will be allowed.

Daquilanea said the Calajunan dumpsite emits offensive odor that assault residents of the district.

Leachate or liquid discharges from the dumpsite also pollute the aquifer which is the source of groundwater.

The mandamus case impleaded the Office of the City Mayor, Sangguniang Panlungsod, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Department of Health.

 

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

 

DEPARTMENT of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez Sr. will appeal the recommendation of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ (IBP) Board of Governor to the Supreme Court to suspend the former from the bar for one year.

 

Gonzalez will also file a disbarment case against Elly Pamatong, a perennial presidential candidate, who filed a complaint with the IBP resulting in the recommendation.

 

The IBP recommended the suspension of Gonzalez for allegedly distributing money to help in the campaign of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s allies during the May 2007 elections.

 

The IBP’s commission on bar discipline approved the “suspension from the practice of law for obstruction of the electoral process for his reprehensible conduct of openly and publicly offering P10,000 to any barrio captain in his area of political influence who can give a 12-0 vote in favor of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s senatorial candidates and taking into consideration his previous professional misconduct.”

 

Gonzalez’s said the P10,000 to each punong barangay in Iloilo City was an incentive for them to encourage their constituents to vote for administration’s senatorial bets.

 

The money came from his own pocket, he added.

 

The justice department chief downplayed the new IBP ruling and referred to Pamatong as “the complainant here is a nut.”

 

“The IBP resolution is not executory. It is only recommendatory. The final say belongs to the SC. I’m not worried about these things. Anyway, the complainant here is a nut. The things he does borders on him being either a genius or a nut,” he said.

 

Gonzalez slammed the leaking of the IBP resolution saying disbarment cases are confidential.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Iloilo chapter said their trust in the Court of Appeals (CA) was shaken in the light of the bribery scandal that rocked the second highest court of the country.

Atty. Virgilio Teruel, IBP-Iloilo president, said their respect for the CA as an institution was diminished after the Supreme Court uncovered the bribery scam relative to the Meralco ownership case.

“Our trust in the integrity, honesty and professionalism of CA justices was shaken when we learned of the SC findings and decision. We are dismayed because the CA ought to carry the image of the judiciary with integrity,” Teruel said.

Teruel said the SC decision only worsened the sagging image of the judiciary “but we are happy because the high tribunal acted swiftly on the scandal.”

The SC earlier dismissed CA Associate Justice Vicente Roxas and suspended Associate Justice Jose Sabio Jr. for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The high tribunal reprimanded CA Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez for his failed leadership in handling the bribery case.

The SC also admonished Justice Myrna Dimaranan-Vidal for allowing herself to be rushed by Justice Roxas to sign the July 8, 2008 decision granting Meralco’s request for a temporary restraining order, which allowed the election of a new board and the Lopez family to maintain control of Meralco.

As for CA Justice Bienvenido Reyes, the SC found him guilty of simple misconduct. He was reprimanded and given a stern warning.

The SC called on the Department of Justice to conduct a preliminary investigation of businessman Francis de Borja, who allegedly tried to bribe Justice Sabio with P10 million so that another justice can handle the Meralco-GSIS case.

With respect to Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) Chairman Camilo Sabio, the SC directed the Office of the Bar Confidant to conduct disbarment proceedings against Camilo for trying to influence his brother, Jose, to support the GSIS in its battle for control of Meralco.

Teruel said they will call a special meeting to discuss the SC decision on the CA bribery scandal.

In Manila, the IBP national chapter said they are not satisfied with the sanctions imposed by the SC on the erring CA justices.

The group also called on the four appellate court justice to resign out of delicadeza.

IBP national president Feliciano Bautista said the justices should voluntarily quit to preserve the integrity of the CA.

SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez, meanwhile, said the high court is now expecting the CA to address lapses in its procedures in handling cases.

“Definitely, in the hearings it was shown there were gaps in their internal rules, and that’s why we are expecting that the Court of Appeals–they have their own committee to draft these internal rules—we’re hoping they will be addressing these gaps. In the meantime, the Supreme Court is also going to look at what happened here and we’ll also be imposing some rules for the Court of Appeals,” Marquez said.

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