By D.S. Cagahastian
People often whine and complain about the slow administration of justice in this country, with the courts saddled with cases, the dockets clogged, and the judges up to their necks with folders and folders of cases to study and dispose of. The judiciary is simply overwhelmed with work.
Depending on the cases, however, court personnel can very well speed up processing of papers and documents, or slow them down a bit, for various reasons. The case of a retired policeman and owner-operator of a van-for-hire is a classic example of an ordinary citizen’s misadventure with the courts.
Rolando Morato’s van was hired by a candidate in Navotas City during the 2019 elections. It was for logistics support, specifically to ferry volunteers to their designated assignments and deliver food to these volunteers at the voting centers. At the height of the voting, an alleged vote-buyer, later identified as Rolando Sopera, a driver for the Navotas City local government, was apprehended by concerned residents of the area. The people who accosted Sopera forced him into Morato’s van and brought him to the barangay hall of Tangos. And that is where Morato’s role in the “arrest” of Sopera ends.
Months later, Morato received a summon stating that he, along with the barangay chairman of Tangos and another individual, a lawyer, are being charged with kidnapping and robbery by Sopera. Of course, Morato denied the allegation as he was only an owner/driver of the van for hire that was rented during the incident in question.
The case dragged on in the Navotas Prosecutor’s Office and last January 21, the resolution to the case was released—the cases against the barangay chairman and a lawyer have been dismissed while Morato’s case was downgraded to Serious Illegal Detention.
Last February 4, at around 5:00 in the afternoon, Morato was accosted by a group of policemen, presenting him with a warrant of arrest in connection with the case.
With his arrest effected late in the afternoon, Morato had been deprived of all legal remedies as government offices would have been closed by that time. Another thing which appears to be irregular is the fact that neither he nor his lawyer has not been notified of the issuance of the warrant. Hence, the only option for him was to wait for the next day to post his bail.
But the next day, when posting bail was just like a breeze in the park for his veteran lawyers, the unexpected happened—the Office of the Clerk of Court won’t issue him an Order of Payment, a basic requisite for posting bail bond. The Order of Payment was only released after 2:00 in the afternoon, the cut-off period for Landbank to accept payment for bail bond. Left with no recourse, Morato’s lawyers were forced to engage in an online transaction with Landbank, transferring funds equivalent to his bail, but which the OCC refused to acknowledge saying they can no longer verify the transaction as the bank is already closed.
Thus, Morato was forced to spend the weekend inside the detention center.
Come Monday, Morato’s release was further delayed after the OCC refused to give him his release order citing various reasons. But when he finally got cleared to be released, and as soon as he stepped out of the detention center, he was met with the news that he was to appear before the judge’s sala for his arraignment. He was not even given the chance to confer with his lawyers to plan for his legal defense.
Fortunately, Morato’s lawyer was able to move to reset his arraignment which was approved by the judge.
Morato’s ordeal is neither new nor isolated. The series of incidents just proves that dealing with the courts can be exasperating. It is definitely not a walk in the park.