President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug war has suffered a legal setback after the Court of Appeals granted the privilege of writ of habeas data earlier sought by Leyte 3rd District Rep. Vicente Veloso and ordered the government to delete his name from the so-called “narco-list” of politicians allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade in the country.
In a decision dated June 8, 2021, the CA’s Former Special Eighth Division ordered the public respondents to remove Veloso’s name from the March 2019 “narco-list.”
Veloso named as respondents in his petition then PDEA Chief Aaron Aquino, then PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde, then AFP Chief of Staff Benjamin Madrigal Jr., NICA Director General Alex Paul Monteagudo and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.
“Accordingly, the respondents are hereby ordered to destroy all documents, records and information which pertain to the person of the petitioner obtained in relation to the 14 March 2019 narco-list. They are further ordered to rectify the said narco-list and delete the name of the petitioner therein,” the CA said in a decision penned by Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas.
“They are also enjoined from further including the petitioner’s name in any publicized derogatory list that fails to follow due process and from taking any further courses of action in direct relations to the documents, records and information which resulted in the issuance of the 14 March 2019 narco-list,” the CA added.
Associate Justices Germano Francisco Legaspi and Ruben Reynaldo Roxas concurred with the ruling.
In granting Veloso’s plea for the privilege of habeas data, the CA turned down the government’s assertion when it invoked national security as a reason in resisting sharing of proof against the lawmaker to the court, saying that the information against the former were not matters involving national security.
“We have carefully scrutinized the documents submitted by the respondents and found no basis to hold them and the information contained therein to be matters of national security,” the appellate court stressed.
According to the CA, while there is no universal definition of national security, it refers to protection of a nation’s existence, territorial integrity and national sovereignty.
But the CA pointed out that the documents and information submitted by the respondents hardly hurdle the standards of what constitutes national security.
“There is nothing therein that could have affected or potentially affect the territorial integrity or national sovereignty of the country. The respondents failed to establish the presence of any lawful defense that would bar the availment of the writ of habeas data,” it said.
The appellate court said that while the granting of the writ would not prevent the filing of a criminal case against the Leyte lawmaker if the government had the evidence, which it said ‘”should have been done to begin with as a matter of due process,” it had no choice but to grant the plea as the inclusion of his name in the narco-list at this point threatened Veloso’s right to privacy in life, liberty and security.
Nonetheless, the CA emphasized that its ruling should not be construed as an absolute censure on the part of the government, particularly the Executive Branch to take actions against personalities involved in the narcotics trade and other criminal activities, but the appellate court will not tolerate actions that violate a person’s constitutional rights.
“Any course of action, however, which fails to observe respect for constitutional rights, will never be tolerated,” it said.
The lawmaker originally filed his petition in April 2019 with the Supreme Court but later remanded it to the CA for determination of its merit.
The appellate court in an order issued on November 5, 2019 also remanded the case to the Office of the Ombudsman to be consolidated with an administrative case filed by the Department of the Interior and Local Government against Veloso.
Veloso then appealed the CA ruling, leading to the latest decision on the case.
The lawmaker has sought the “rectification, suppression or destruction of the database, information or files kept by the respondents” which he said “erroneously” list him among the politicians allegedly involved in the narcotics trade.
Veloso’s name was read by President Duterte in his narcolist.
Veloso, who is a retired CA justice, denied any links or involvement in the illegal drugs trade saying his name was hastily inserted in the list since the PDEA in Region 8, the PNP Regional Office 8 and the military admitted that he is not in their list of politicians with ties to the narcotics trade.
He blamed local politics for the inclusion of his name in the list.