After his court hearing in the Cebu Palace of Justice yesterday, the prison inmate had lunch.
In an air-conditioned restaurant, he sat down with his jail guard escort and lawyer.
They had pochero, lechon kawali and rice.
Only when they were ready to board a car to take him back to the Cebu provincial jail did the jail guard attempt to put the handcuffs back on.
Lunch break was over for former mayor Alfredo Arsenio of Lezo town, Aklan province.
Arsenio, who stands accused of murdering radio broadcaster Gerson Hinolan eight years go, enjoyed his meal in Sabel’s Restaurant at the Capitol, even though he wasn’t supposed to be there.
His visit was witnessed by Cebu Daily News and a TV5 crew.
“Without a court order, prisoners are definitely not allowed to go somewhere else,” said Associate Justice Gabriel Ingles of the Court of Appeals, whose comment was sought later.
“Jail guards are duty bound to escort the prisoner back to the detention cell immediately after the hearing unless authorized by court.”
When CDN approached Arsenio for an interview in the parking lot, he spoke briefly about his case before his lawyer advised him to stop talking.
Arsenio had a wad of money bills in his hand.
The jail guard stepped forward to put on handcuffs, but Arsenio waved him off, saying “not yet” because he had to count his cash.
A check with clerk of court Consolacion Lape of RTC Branch 16 confirmed that no court order was issued for Arsenio didn’t secure a court order for the sidetrip.
News reporters went to the eatery after being tipped off that the inmate was there having lunch without authorization.
At past 12 noon yesterday, Arsenio was spotted eating with his lawyer Edwin Musico, a jail guard and a male companion in Sabel’s Restaurant. The inmate, wearing a T-shirt marked “CPDRC inmate” was smoking a cigarette and sat at a table near the front door.
Minutes earlier, he was on the witness stand testifying in the case of a journalist’s murder at the Regional Trial Court Branch 16.
Outside in the parking lot where he was ready to board a vehicle back to the Cebu Provincial Rehabiltation and Detention Center, the jail guard tried to put on the handcuffs on Arsenio.
The ex-mayor said “not yet” because he still had to count the money bills in his hand, given earlier by a male aide. His lawyer then told his client not to grant interviews. The jail guard later handcuffed Arsenio.
Justice Ingles, explaining court procedure, said a detention prisoner needs to get prior permission of the court to leave his cell. This is done through his lawyer who submits a motion in court to be heard by the judge. Usually, consent is granted for important gatherings such as weddings or burials of family members.
“Generally, the motion must be filed at least three days before the date of hearing,” Ingles said.
RTC Judge Meinrado Paredes said it is customary for all inmates to be brought to their detention cells after trial “otherwise, it will open the floodgates for other prisoners to ask for the same privilege.”
CPDRC jail warden Alger Comendador told CDN the rule of “jail-to-court, court-to-jail” applies to all prisoners. He said he will check the records to identify who Arsenio’s escort was and ask him to explain his actions.
He said inmates attending court hearings are sometimes allowed to eat in food stalls near the Palace of Justice or the court house.
“It depends on the discretion of the jail guards,” Comendador said.
Asst. Prosecutor Llena Ipong-Avila, head implementor of the witness protection program of the Department of
Justice (DOJ, was alarmed when told about Arsenio’s lunch yesterday.
“The accused should be secured well. That’s the job of jail guards,” she told Cebu Daily News. /By Patricia Andrea Pateña and Ador Vincent Mayol