Batangas court junks case, orders release of store owner wrongly accused as NPA officer

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 19 2021 09:43 PM

MANILA — A Batangas court has quashed the search warrant and ordered the release of a sari-sari store owner whom police and the military accused of being a New People's Army (NPA) intelligence officer, based on a copy of a May 6 court order released to the media.

Lamberto Asinas was arrested in April 2020 and charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, based on a search warrant issued by a Sta. Cruz, Laguna regional trial court.

The Nasugbu, Batangas Regional Trial Court Branch 14 reviewed the records of the Laguna court and found that the applicant for the search warrant — a certain Police Senior Master Sergeant Mediavillo Alcantara — had no personal knowledge of the facts and his testimony before Laguna Judge Cynthia Mariño-Ricablanca had discrepancies.

The arresting officers also had no personal knowledge of the alleged illegal possession of firearms at the start of the operations, according to the court, as shown by testimonies from village officials and neighbors that there was no “Jojo Castillo” who resides in the area. 

Police claimed Castillo was the informant who conducted the surveillance on Asinas.

"[I]f a deliberate falsehood on matters that are essential or necessary to a showing of probable cause is committed, a trial judge’s finding of probable cause may be set aside. Therefore, this court is compelled to quash Search Warrant No. 20-3368 on the ground of deliberate falsehood committed,” Nasugbu Judge Wilhelmina Go-Santiago said.

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Go-Santiago stressed the rule that a judge, before issuing a warrant, must make a personal examination under oath of the complainant and the witnesses.

“Aside from the examination under oath, the examining judge has to make searching questions and elicit answers of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce in writing and to attach them to the record,” she added.

Because the search warrant and the search itself were voided, all the pistol, ammunitions and grenade allegedly recovered from Asinas were declared inadmissible in evidence. 

With no evidence to support a conviction, the Batangas court dismissed the case.

Asinas' lawyers from the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) said he has already been vilified in the media and has expressed fears of future persecution. 

“Red-tagged individuals have little or no recourse even after charges are dismissed. The military and police are not compelled nor have they volunteered to retract their malicious statements and, in most cases, have refused to acknowledge the errors in their ways,” they pointed out.

They cited another case last year where 6 Calaca farmers from Batangas were also released on the same ground. 

Both cases took place before the Bloody Sunday incidents in March this year where 9 activists were killed. Those incidents also involved service of search warrants.

"The AFP and the PNP in Southern Tagalog are losing credibility with these kinds of operations, as the victims and residents resolutely, bravely push back,” PILC said in a statement.

Various rights groups have asked the Supreme Court to review the rules on the issuance and implementation of search warrants, even to the extent of requiring the use of body cameras to avoid abuses in the service of warrants.

Rights groups claim search warrants have been weaponized against activists, often with deadly consequences.