Alejano v. Cabuay G.R. No. 160792, August 25, 2005

Facts: Early morning of 27 July 2003, some 321 armed soldiers, led by the now detained junior officers, entered and took control of the Oakwood Premier Luxury Apartments (“Oakwood”). The soldiers disarmed the security officers of Oakwood and planted explosive devices in its immediate surroundings. The junior officers publicly renounced their support for the administration and called for the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and several cabinet members. Around 7:00 p.m. of the same date, the soldiers voluntarily surrendered to the authorities after several negotiations with government emissaries. The soldiers later defused the explosive devices they had earlier planted. The soldiers then returned to their barracks. Gen. Abaya, as the Chief of Staff of the AFP, issued a directive to all the Major Service Commanders to turn over custody of ten junior officers to the ISAFP Detention Center. The transfer took place while military and civilian authorities were investigating the soldiers’ involvement in the Oakwood incident. Government prosecutors filed an Information for coup d’etat with the RTC against the soldiers involved in the Oakwood incident. the CA rendered its decision ordered Gen. Cabuay, who was in charge of implementing the regulations in the ISAFP Detention Center, to uphold faithfully the rights of the detainees in accordance with Standing Operations Procedure No. 0263-04. The appellate court directed Gen. Cabuay to adhere to his commitment made in court regarding visiting hours and the detainees’ right to exercise for two hours a day. The appellate court declared that while the opening and reading of Trillanes’ letter is an abhorrent violation of his right to privacy of communication, this does not justify the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. The violation does not amount to illegal restraint, which is the proper subject of habeas corpus proceedings.

Issue: Whether the opening, inspection and reading of the letter of the detainees is an infringement of a citizen’s privacy rights.

 

Held: No, the SC do not agree with the CA that the opening and reading of the detainees’ letters violated the detainees’ right to privacy of communication. The letters were not in a sealed envelope. The inspection of the folded letters is a valid measure as it serves the same purpose as the opening of sealed letters for the inspection of contraband. The letters alleged to have been read by the ISAFP authorities were not confidential letters between the detainees and their lawyers. The petitioner who received the letters from detainees Trillanes and Maestrecampo was merely acting as the detainees’ personal courier and not as their counsel when he received the letters for mailing. In the present case, since the letters were not confidential communication between the detainees and their lawyers, the officials of the ISAFP Detention Center could read the letters. If the letters are marked confidential communication between the detainees and their lawyers, the detention officials should not read the letters but only open the envelopes for inspection in the presence of the detainees. The right to privacy of those detained is subject to Section 4 of RA 7438, as well as to the limitations inherent in lawful detention or imprisonment. By the very fact of their detention, pre-trial detainees and convicted prisoners have a diminished expectation of privacy rights. The detainees in the present case are junior officers accused of leading 300 soldiers in committing coup d’etat, a crime punishable with reclusion perpetua. The junior officers are not ordinary detainees but visible leaders of the Oakwood incident involving an armed takeover of a civilian building in the heart of the financial district of the country. As members of the military armed forces, the detainees are subject to the Articles of War. Moreover, the junior officers are detained with other high-risk persons from the Abu Sayyaf and the NPA. Thus, we must give the military custodian a wider range of deference in implementing the regulations in the ISAFP Detention Center. The military custodian is in a better position to know the security risks involved in detaining the junior officers, together with the suspected Abu Sayyaf and NPA members. Since the appropriate regulations depend largely on the security risks involved, we should defer to the regulations adopted by the military custodian in the absence of patent arbitrariness.

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