MANILA — Two courts in Manila and Quezon City have denied the bid of 4 activists arrested on International Human Rights Day last year to junk the search warrants issued by a Quezon City court which led to their arrests.
A Manila court last month denied the motion to quash the search warrant filed by trade unionist Joel Demate as well as his motion for reconsideration filed this month.
Meanwhile, a Quezon City court on May 2 also denied the same motion filed by trade unionists Romina Astudillo, Mark Ryan Cruz and Jaymie Gregorio, Jr.
Copies of both rulings were released to the media only on Tuesday.
Demate, Astudillo, Cruz and Gregorio are part of the 7 activists arrested in separate service of search warrants on December 10 last year, collectively called Human Rights Day 7 (HRD7).
A fifth activist — Dennise Velasco — is also detained but has yet to file his own motion to quash.
Two of the HRD7 — journalist Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago — have earlier been released after a Mandaluyong court in February quashed the search warrants against them.
MANDALUYONG COURT RULING
Salem and Esparago’s release raised hopes among the lawyers and families of HRD7 that the remaining 5 still under detention might follow the same fate since the ruling by Mandaluyong RTC Br. 209 Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio voided the search warrants issued by Quezon City Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert for being “vague,” accusing the police of undertaking a “fishing expedition.”
Quisumbing-Ignacio also declared there probable cause for the issuance of the search warrants was not established because of the inconsistencies in the statements of the police and their informant in their application for the issuance of the search warrants.
It was Burgos-Villavert who also issued the search warrants for the other 5 HRD7 activists.
Quisumbing-Ignacio went to the extent of noting a discrepancy in the testimony regarding Cruz, who was not on trial before her court, as to who were his companions when a delivery was supposedly made to him in a condominium unit in Quezon City.
But Quezon City RTC Br. 91 Judge Kathleen Rosario Dela Cruz-Espinosa, who is hearing the case against Cruz, Astudillo and Gregorio, found nothing wrong with the statements of those who applied for the search warrants.
“Contrary to defense’s allegations of inconsistencies in the testimonies of the witness Pat. Ambuyoc, the undersigned finds that the collective testimonies of the witnesses would prompt a reasonably discreet person to believe that the offense of violation of RA 10591 was committed, and that the objects or items sought for could be found in the premises to be searched,” she said in the order.
Having declared the search warrant valid, Dela Cruz-Espinosa said the subsequent search and seizure was not unreasonable and gave it the benefit of the presumption of regularity.
Manila RTC Br. 50 Judge Bibiano Colasito, for his part, said that even assuming witnesses lacked credibility, the court is not duty-bound to hold a new determination of probable cause in the issuance of the warrants.
He rejected Demate’s claim that Burgos-Villavert did not conduct searching questions required before the issuance of a search warrant against Demate.
He said Burgos-Villavert asked “lengthy and somehow elaborate” questions and he had to defer to her findings as she is presumed to have regularly performed her duties.
Both the Manila and Quezon City courts dismissed the activists’ arguments that the search warrants were vague, saying things to be seized need not be described in terms of brand and model.
“Indeed, the law does not require that the things to be seized must be described in precise and minute detail as to leave no room for doubt on the part of the searching authorities,” it said, adding that if these were the rule, it would be “virtually impossible” to obtain search warrants.
The lawyer and families of the HRD7 on Tuesday expressed dismay over the rulings, saying these cases are premised on the same facts and circumstances as the Mandaluyong case.
“Ano ba yung nakita ng Mandaluyong court na hindi makita o ayaw tingnan ng mga trial courts dito sa Maynila at Quezon City. Yun po ang mind-boggling sa aming lahat na tumatayong legal counsel sa mga natitirang HRD7,” said National Union of Peoples’ Lawyer’s Kathy Panguban, who represents Demate and Velasco.
(What did the Mandaluyong court see that trial courts in Manila and Quezon City did not or refuse to see? That’s what’s mind-boggling to us who stand as legal counsel for the rest of the HRD7.)
Cruz’s wife, Ella Durana, on the other hand said she is both saddened and enraged by the rulings in both courts.
“Ganito na ba talaga ang sistema ng hustisya sa bansa? Kung sino pa ang walang kasalanan, sila pa hinuhuli, kinukulong at kinakasuhan?,” she asked.
(Is this the way our justice system in the Philippines works? The innocent ones are arrested, detained and charged?)
Cruz, Astudillo and Gregorio have filed a motion for reconsideration while Demate is studying the possibility of appealing the court’s ruling before a higher court.
Various human rights groups and activists have sounded the alarm against so-called weaponized search warrants and warrants factories, urging the Supreme Court to review and revise the rules on the issuance as well as the implementation of search warrants.