G.R. No. 113811 – 237 SCRA 538 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – Bill of Rights – Equal Protection – Suspension of PNP Members Charged with Grave Felonies
Ishmael Himagan was a policeman assigned in Davao City. He was charged for the murder of Benjamin Machitar, Jr. and for the attempted murder of Benjaminâ€™s younger brother, Barnabe. Pursuant to Section 47 of Republic Act No. 6975, Himagan was placed into suspension pending the murder case. The law provides that:
Upon the filing of a complaint or information sufficient in form and substance against a member of the PNP for grave felonies where the penalty imposed by law is six (6) years and one (1) day or more, the court shall immediately suspend the accused from office until the case is terminated. Such case shall be subject to continuous trial and shall be terminated within ninety (90) days from arraignment of the accused.
Himagan assailed the suspension averring that Section 42 of P.D. 807 of the Civil Service Decree provides that his suspension should be limited to ninety (90) days only. He claims that an imposition of preventive suspension of over 90 days is contrary to the Civil Service Law and would be a violation of his constitutional right to equal protection of laws .
ISSUE: Whether or not Sec 47, RA 6975 violates equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution.
HELD: No. The language of the first sentence of Sec 47 of RA 6975 is clear, plain and free from ambiguity. It gives no other meaning than that the suspension from office of the member of the PNP charged with grave offense where the penalty is six years and one day or more shall last until the termination of the case. The suspension cannot be lifted before the termination of the case. The second sentence of the same Section providing that the trial must be terminated within ninety (90) days from arraignment does not qualify or limit the first sentence. The two can stand independently of each other. The first refers to the period of suspension. The second deals with the time from within which the trial should be finished.
The reason why members of the PNP are treated differently from the other classes of persons charged criminally or administratively insofar as the application of the rule on preventive suspension is concerned is that policemen carry weapons and the badge of the law which can be used to harass or intimidate witnesses against them, as succinctly brought out in the legislative discussions.
If a suspended policeman criminally charged with a serious offense is reinstated to his post while his case is pending, his victim and the witnesses against him are obviously exposed to constant threat and thus easily cowed to silence by the mere fact that the accused is in uniform and armed. the imposition of preventive suspension for over 90 days under Sec 47 of RA 6975 does not violate the suspended policeman’s constitutional right to equal protection of the laws.
Suppose the trial is not terminated within ninety days from arraignment, should the suspension of accused be lifted?
The answer is certainly no. While the law uses the mandatory word “”shall”” before the phrase “”be terminated within ninety (90) days””, there is nothing in RA 6975 that suggests that the preventive suspension of the accused will be lifted if the trial is not terminated within that period. Nonetheless, the Judge who fails to decide the case within the period without justifiable reason may be subject to administrative sanctions and, in appropriate cases where the facts so warrant, to criminal or civil liability. If the trial is unreasonably delayed without fault of the accused such that he is deprived of his right to a speedy trial, he is not without a remedy. He may ask for the dismissal of the case. Should the court refuse to dismiss the case, the accused can compel its dismissal by certiorari, prohibition or mandamus, or secure his liberty by habeas corpus.