MANILA — A Bacolod City court has quashed more search warrants issued by a Quezon City judge against trade unionists, this time, against members of the Kilusang Mayo Uno who were arrested in Bacolod City in 2019.
Bacolod City Regional Trial Court Branch 42 Judge Ana Celeste Bernad voided the search warrants issued by Quezon City Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert in October 2019 against John Milton Lozande for failure to particularly describe the place to be searched.
“Search warrant No. 5951(19) failed to describe the place with particularity. It simply authorizes a search of No. 222 Ilang Ilang Street, Barangay Bata, Bacolod City, Negros Occidental,” the court said, after conducting an ocular inspection of the site of the search.
“The said address, however, upon entry is made up of three (3) structures that can be seen inside the compound containing a lot area of three hundred seventy five (375) square meters or more or less. It would seem that the warrant gives the raiding team unbridled and thus illegal authority to search all the structures found inside the above-stated address,” it added.
The court stressed the need to “particularly describ[e] the place to be searched” under section 2 of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, reflected in the Rules of Court provision for service of a search warrant.
The intention, according to the court, is clear: “that the search be confined strictly to the place so described.”
“In view of the manifest objective of the constitutional safeguard against unreasonable search, the Constitution and the Rules limit the place to be searched only to those described in the warrant,” the court said.
“This constitutional right is the embodiment of a spiritual concept: the belief that to value the privacy of home and person and to afford its constitutional protection against the long reach of government is no less than to value human dignity, and that his privacy must not be disturbed except in case of overriding social need, and then only under stringent procedural safeguards,” it explained.
The court added requiring particular descriptions in search warrants would also support the finding of probable cause.
“[T]he lack of a more specific description will make it apparent that there has not been a sufficient showing to the magistrate that the described items are to be found in a particular place,” it said.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers-Panay (NUPL-Panay), which serves as Lozande’s lawyer, said similar resolutions were issued against 5 more trade unionists — Karina Mae De La Cerna, Cherryl Catalogo, Proseso Quiatchon, Albert De La Cerna, and Noli Rosales.
Among the 6, only Lozande was allowed to post bail as he was accused only of illegal possession of firearms while the rest faced additional charges of illegal possession of explosives.
Illegal possession of firearms is bailable while illegal possession of explosives is not.
NUPL-Panay is set to file a motion seeking the release of the 5 accused in detention.
2ND TIME BURGOS-VILLAVERT'S SEARCH WARRANTS VOIDED
This is the second time that search warrants issued by Judge Burgos-Villavert were overturned by fellow regional trial court judges.
Last month, a Mandaluyong court also voided search warrants issued by Burgos-Villavert against journalist Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago for being vague and for having been issued without sufficient probable cause, citing inconsistent statements by police officers and their informant.
Villavert is the same judge who issued search warrants in 2019 which led to the arrest of 60 individuals in Negros and Manila, including detainee Reina Mae Nasino who gave birth and lost her baby River while under detention.
Various rights groups have criticized what they called “weaponized search warrants” and two trade unionists have urged the Supreme Court to investigate so-called “warrant factories.”
“This latest decision of the court which overturned the presumption that the search warrant issued by Judge Burgos-Villavert satisfied the constitutional requirement of definiteness, has increasingly disprove the competence and integrity of the said judge as well as other similar judges who have arbitrarily issued search warrants against known activist and members of caused-oriented organizations,” NUPL-Panay said in a statement.
“For the NUPL, the decision is an affirmation of the truth that the accused were unjustly charged and were subjected to repression by the estate forces due to their social advocacies. It is a victory for the rule of law and the cause of justice,” it added.
Lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen, who is still recovering from multiple stab wounds he suffered at the hands of a still unknown assailant in Iloilo last week, is among the lawyers handling the case.
bloody Sunday, activists killed, AO 35, Supreme Court, Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert, Judge Ana Celeste Bernad, Negros Occidental, Kilusang Mayo Uno