By Benjamin Pulta

CHARRED. The modern jeepney burned in Catanauan, Quezon province on Jan. 31, 2024. The Catanauan Regional Trial Court Branch 96 on Monday (March 11) ordered the release of four suspects who were earlier charged with destructive arson. (Photo courtesy of PNP Area Police Command-Southern Luzon)

MANILA – A court in Quezon province has ordered the release of film director Jade Castro and his three companions who were detained for allegedly burning a modern jeepney in the town of Catanauan.

In its 16-page order dated March 11, Catanauan, Quezon Regional Trial Court Branch 96 Judge Julius Francis Galvez granted the motion of Castro, Ernesto Orcine, Nel Mariano, and Dominic Ramos to to quash the destructive arson charges due to the “absence of reasonable connections between the report of the MPS (Municipal Police Station) Mulanay obtained through a dragnet operation and the initial statements given by the witnesses.”

The four were released from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology facility in Catanauan on Monday following the court’s order.

They were arrested for allegedly burning a modern jeepney in Barangay Dahican, Catanauan, Quezon at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 31.

“After the evaluation of the parties’ respective arguments, the Court resolves that the police personnel of the MPS  Catanauan, Quezon did not validly arrest the four accused through a hot pursuit operation,” the court said.

Three eyewitnesses gave police the initial information on how the four burned the bus.

On Feb. 1, the police conducted a follow-up operation at Mi Casa resort in Barangay Butanyog, Mulanay where they spoke to Castro’s group and took their photographs.

The photographs were later shown to the witnesses who identified the same as the persons who allegedly burned the bus.

“The arresting and investigating officers merely received from the eyewitnesses the information about the physical descriptions of four males who were armed with small firearms, and the means as to how these males burned and destroyed the minibus,” the court said.

However, the court said the eyewitnesses did not provide sufficient information on the additional yet significant circumstances: how the four suspects effectuated their escape right after they committed the crime; the means of transportation which they used in fleeing from the place of the incident; and the direction where they proceeded to when they fled.

The court noted that there had not been “any suspicious or incriminating actuation of the four accused, for the police personnel of the MPS Catanauan to suspect them as the perpetrators being referred to by the witnesses.”

The police “have no probable cause and reasonable suspicion to go to the Mi Casa Resort, to conduct a follow-up operation and then to take pictures of the four accused for the purposes of the witnesses identification,” the court added.

Th court also ruled that the police’s “subsequent acts of showing the pictures of the four accused to the witnesses, and then their actual arrest of the four accused after the witnesses actually identified them have no legal basis,” noting that they violated the constitutional rights of the four accused against unreasonable arrest.

The Quezon Provincial Prosecutor’s Office earlier indicted Castro, Orcine, Mariano and Ramos on destructive arson charges. (PNA)