President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will let the courts decide on whether former senator Leila de Lima will be given a home furlough after she was taken hostage at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center on Sunday, a Palace official said Tuesday.
At a press briefing, Office of the Press Secretary officer-in-charge Undersecretary Cheloy Garafil was asked for the Palace reaction on the suggestion of Senator Imee Marcos to offer home furlough for the former lawmaker.
Garafil said the President would not intervene in any case that is already being handled by the courts.
“De Lima’s cases are already with the courts. Let us allow her lawyers to make the proper motion and the President cannot and will not intervene in any case that’s already with the courts,” she said.
In related developments:
• Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Police General Rodolfo Azurin Jr. on Tuesday said terrorists and other dangerous suspects should be detained at the facility of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), after three of them tried to break out of Camp Crame and one held De Lima hostage on Sunday.
• Azurin on Tuesday apologized over the “Muslim” comments made by policemen during Sunday’s hostage-taking incident at the PNP Custodial Center.
• The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos on Tuesday urged the PNP to be sensitive with the religion, culture, and preparation of food of Muslim inmates, which De Lima’s hostage-taker cited before being neutralized by the police.
Asked about calls to release De Lima, who is detained over drug-related charges, Garafil said: “As I said, we’ll leave it up to the courts to decide if she’s going to be freed based on the evidence or merits of her case.”
After the hostage incident, Mr. Marcos said he would speak with De Lima and ask her if she wants to be transferred to another detention facility. He also tasked security personnel to ensure the incident will not happen again in any detention center.
De Lima, a former Justice secretary and a staunch critic of the Duterte administration, has been detained at the PNP Custodial Center since February 2017. She has repeatedly denied involvement in the proliferation of illegal drugs.
One of the three drug charges against her has already been junked by the Muntinlupa court in February last year.
Meanwhile, Azurin said the policies on detention should be reviewed after three Abu Sayyaf members under police custody tried to escape the PNP Custodial Center which led to the hostage-taking of the former senator.
“For me, those types of people are better detained at the AFP facility where there is maximum facility and the security will be provided by soldiers,” he said in an interview on ANC.
According to Azurin, in the past, only former government officials facing criminal charges were usually detained at the PNP facility. He added the courts are the ones that decide most of the time on who will be detained at the Custodial Center.
“Honestly, if we have our way, we should not detain suspects like them here in Camp Crame. What happens is most of the time the court is the one who is ordering our police that a certain suspect will be detained here for some reason or another,” he said.
On Sunday, three Persons Under Police Custody (PUPCs) — Arnel Cabintoy, Idang Susukan, and Feliciano Sulayao Jr. — stabbed Police Corporal Roger Agustin, who was serving their food in the PNP facility.
Cabintoy and Susukan were shot dead by a police officer, while Sulayao was able to run and take De Lima hostage. The suspects used improvised knives from metal forks.
Headquarters Support Service Director Police Colonel Mark Pespes was able to neutralize Sulayao during a negotiation.
According to Azurin, authorities are also investigating how the metal forks were taken inside the facility because metal objects are not allowed there.
Interviewed on ANC, Azurin addressed the apology to Senator Robin Padilla, who earlier expressed his disappointment that policemen referred to hostage-takers as “Muslims” during the incident.
“We would like to apologize to our good Senator, and his comments regarding what happened are well-noted,” the police chief said.
Although the incident could be due to “adrenaline rush,” Azurin said describing suspects during operations sometimes could not be avoided.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Padilla accepted Azurin’s apology.
“I hope this will be an important first step to end discrimination against people based on their faith. My wish is that our heroic policemen remove from their vocabulary the word ‘Muslim’ in referring to those who are linked to crime or terrorism. Again, there is no connection between one’s faith and his/her wrongdoing,” the senator said.
He likewise reiterated his support to the policemen in fulfilling their pledge to “serve and protect.”
At a news conference at the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos main office in Quezon City, Commissioner Yusoph Mando said “give them (Muslim persons deprived of liberty) time to pray because this is an effective way for them to return to God.”
“Based on the affidavit of De Lima, these PDLs were being fed with pork, (and were not treated well),” he told reporters.
He stressed that pork is a forbidden food for Muslims. Azurin Jr., however, denied that they served pork to Muslim detainees at the Custodial Center.
“We are just basing our statement on the affidavit of De Lima that pork was served to them, the reason why there was an attempt to escape. If he (Azurin) is denying it, we are not insisting on that but we received the sworn affidavit of the former senator. Whether it is true or not, we leave it to the PNP,” Mando said.
Ceazar Maranda, NCMF’s Bureau of Muslim Cultural Affairs, said a budget hearing of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology at the Senate revealed that there were incidents when pork was being served to Muslim inmates.
He cited a Commission on Audit report to substantiate his allegation.
“We are glad that the PNP is open for a partnership with us to conduct sensitivity educational awareness,” Maranda said.
On the other hand, Mando called on the police not to use the word Muslim in referring to one being accused of crimes.
In a video footage during the hostage-taking incident, a police officer was seen shouting at his comrades the words “’Yung mga Muslim,” “Tatlong Muslim ‘yun” and “Mga Muslim’ yun” pertaining to Cabintoy and company.
“A Muslim is a person who adheres to Islam,” Mando said, but welcomed Azurin’s apology for the Muslim comments of his men.