Nov 25, 2021 @ 18:06

Group asks courts to junk baseless Villavert search warrant cases vs. activists

As a regional trial court acquitted two imprisoned activists of illegal firearms and explosives charges, Kapatid, the support group of families and friends of political prisoners, called on courts trying cases that likewise arose from the “search warrant factory” of Quezon City RTC Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert to take a hard look and dismiss the cases for clearly being “trumped up” against activists.

Last Wednesday, November 24, Judge Marlo Malagar of the Manila RTC Branch 19 acquitted Cora Agovida, Gabriela Metro Manila coordinator, and Michael Bartolome, a Kadamay organizer, saying that “the irregularities in the implementation of the search warrants, evident from the prosecution’s evidence itself, brings the court back to Bartolome and Agovida’s protestation at the very onset of these cases – that the application and issuance of the search warrants were improper and had no basis.”

“We hail the RTC’s decision to clear Cora Agovida and Michael Bartolome who were arrested in a massive crackdown against activists in late October to early November 2019 in Manila and Bacolod. The dismissal of their case clearly proves that the charges are hollow. We appeal to courts trying cases that likewise arose from the search warrant factory of Quezon City RTC Executive Judge Villavert to take a hard look at the inconsistent and incredulous testimonies of police witnesses and dismiss the cases for clearly being trumped up against activists,” said Fides Lim, Kapatid spokesperson.

“The Malagar decision is the latest in a string of court victories for activists that should open the way for more releases of Villavert victims. They include my husband Vicente Ladlad, 72, and Alberto and Virginia Villamor, 68 and 70. They have been in jail for three years now since their arrest on planted firearms and explosives on November 8, 2018 and their health is deteriorating amid the pandemic,” said Lim.

Lim said the trend of court releases of activists took off in February 2021 when Mandaluyong City RTC Branch 209 quashed the search warrant against journalist Lady Ann Salem and labor organizer Rodrigo Esparago and declared the firearms and grenades allegedly seized from them as “inadmissible evidence” and “fruits of the poisonous tree.” The presiding judge, Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio, later found herself “red-tagged” in tarpaulins because of her decision.

In March, Bacolod City RTC Branch 42 Judge Ana Celeste Bernad quashed another search warrant issued by Villavert which the police used to apprehend six Kilusang Mayo Uno activists in 2019.

“The dismissal of Villavert search warrant cases picked up following the Supreme Court circular issued in July, which responded to appeals of human rights lawyers and groups to scrap the power of Manila and Quezon City judges to issue search warrants outside their judicial region,” noted Lim.

In August, Quezon City RTC Branch 77 Judge Ferdinand Baylon quashed and decared invalid Villavert’s July 2019 warrants against Alexander and Winona Birondo, peace talks staff of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, saying that the testimonies of the police were false and inconsistent. In September, Quezon City RTC Branch 219 Judge Janet Abergos-Samar also acquitted Gabriela leader Esterlita Suaybaguio of illegal possession of firearm and explosive charges for “failure of the prosecution to establish her guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”

Also in August, judges also dismissed search warrant charges for lack of probable cause against erstwhile Communist Party head Rodolfo Salas and UCCP pastor Dan Balucio.

“We ask the courts to move faster because despite the quashing of their search warrants, many of the victims of these baseless charges are still in jail like Alexander and Winona Birondo. They are diabetic patients and very vulnerable in congested jails to the continuing pandemic,” said Lim.

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