THE Supreme Court (SC) has acquitted four persons, collectively known as “Cavite 4,” of illegal possession of firearms, ammunition and inflicting damage on a telco terminal charges for violation of their constitutional right to speedy trial.
In an eight-page resolution made public on September 12, 2023, the Court’s Third Division reversed and set aside the January 15, 2019 decision and April 12, 2019 resolution of the Court of Appeals junking the petition filed by the relatives of George Bruce, Jose Nayve, Romel Nuñez and Armando Matres questioning the denial by the Regional Trial Court of Trece Martires City of their motion to dismiss the criminal cases filed against them due to violation of their right to speedy trial under Article III, Section 14 of the 1987 Constitution.
“After conscientiously sifting through the records of this case, the Court discerns adequate basis to reverse the challenged issuances of the CA,” the SC declared.
“Criminal Case Nos. TMCR-1096-15, TMCR-1097-15, and TMCR- 1120-17, pending before the Regional Trial Court of Trece Martires City, Branch 23, are dismissed for violation of the petitioners’ right to speedy trial. Petitioners George B. Bruce, Jose C. Nayve, Romel M. Nuñez, and Armando T. Matres are acquitted and are ordered immediately released from custody…” it added.
The SC also directed the jail warden of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology-Special Intensive Care Area (BJMP-SICA), Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig to implement its resolution immediately and to submit the action it has taken within five days from receipt of the resolution.
Bruce, Nayve, Nuñez and Matres were accused of being members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who were allegedly responsible for firing guns at a fair at Barangay Manggahan in General Trias, Cavite on November 23, 2015.
The four admitted being at the vicinity when they heard the gunshots nearby but denied that they were responsible for the incident.
However, the four were arrested by the police and allegedly interrogated and tortured to admit being members of the NPA.
Nayve at the time of their arrest was a coordinator of Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (PISTON) in Cavite while Nunez and Matres were construction workers and Bruce was a utility vehicle driver.
The SC pointed out that under Section 7 of Republic Act No. 8493 or the Speedy Trial Act of 1998, as implemented by Rule 116, Section l (g) of the Rules of Court, the arraignment of an accused should be held within 30 days from the time the court acquires jurisdiction over his or her person.
In the case of the Cavite 4, the SC noted that two out of the three informations against petitioners were filed on December 18, 2015.
Their arraignment was initially scheduled on May 27, 2016 but did not push through due to various reasons, such as the failure of the jail warden to bring petitioners to court and that the public prosecutor was either on leave or absent.
“Ultimately, petitioners were arraigned on September 13, 2018, or more than two years from the filing of the first two Informations in 2015, and after a total of eight postponements…” the SC noted.
The prosecutors, according to the Court, also failed to provide reasonable explanation for the postponements of petitioners’ arraignment.
“However, it is not amiss to point out that an arraignment takes, at most, 10 minutes of the court’s business and does not normally entail legal gymnastics. It consists simply of reading to the accused the charges leveled against them, ensuring their understanding of those charges, and obtaining their plea to the charges,” the SC said.
“Upon this point, it is axiomatic that a dismissal predicated on the right of the accused to speedy trial upon his motion or express consent, amounts to an acquittal, which will bar another prosecution of the accused for the same offense. Perforce, the acquittal of petitioners from the charges must follow,” it added.