MANILA - Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta on Friday defended a Quezon City Regional Trial Court judge’s decision to issue search warrants that led to raids of offices of progressive groups and the arrest of dozens of activists.
“We have not yet received any report but from what we have gathered, she followed all the rules that were promulgated,” Peralta said of Quezon City RTC Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert.
Villavert had issued at least 4 search warrants authorizing the raid of offices of left-leaning groups Bayan Muna, women’s alliance Gabriela, labor groups National Federation of Sugar Workers and Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), among other groups, in Manila and Bacolod based on reports that firearms, ammunition or a hand grenade may be found in these offices.
As a result of these raids, around 60 activists were arrested, though half of them were eventually released after prosecutors found that they were not members of the New People’s Army (NPA) but were in fact former employees of a bus company.
But the groups questioned the issuance of the search warrants and claimed the evidence supposedly found in these offices were planted.
Bayan Muna called on the Supreme Court to review Villavert’s actions.
Upon assuming office, Peralta had promised to look into judge’s misconduct even without a complaint on the basis of the legal principle of res ipsa loquitor (the thing speaks for itself).
“In my program, when I resurrect some of the things justices did before, the principle of res ipsa loquitur even if there is no complaint, if we believed that a judge rendered a decision, came out with a resolution, misapprehended the fact, misapplied the law and later on favored a party, if we can see from this resolution and decision then we can initiate the filing of cases or initiate the investigation of these judges,” he explained.
But the chief justice saw no basis to initiate its own investigation in the case of Villavert, saying the high court would rather wait for a complaint against the judge.
“She is authorized to issue a search warrant even if it is outside her territorial jurisdiction. She conducted hearing to determine the existence of probable cause, she conducted the required searching questions, extensive questions and when she was satisfied with the existence of probable cause, she issued a search warrant, when the search warrant was served she required the certain policemen or military men to report to the court within 10 days from receipt and she followed. Can we now take the initiative to investigate her? There is no basis,” Peralta said.
A Supreme Court circular allows executive judges of the Manila and Quezon City RTCs to issue search warrants which could be implemented anywhere in the country.
Among the instances where this can be done is when the crime alleged is illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
But this requires certain conditions, such as the personal endorsement of the heads of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) or the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Asked about calls for the Supreme Court to review its circular allowing this practice, Peralta defended its necessity.
“The issuance of a search warrant should be done confidentially 'yan eh, it cannot be done openly, that's why when you apply for a search warrant, the judge will conduct the hearing inside his/her chamber so that nobody will hear. Now if you applied for a SW in the area where the house or the building is located, the possibility of leakage is very high, so by the time that you issue the search warrant, pagdating mo dun sa lugar, wala na 'yung tao, wala na lahat (when you get to the place, the people are gone, everything's gone),” he said.
“So they envisioned a system, they adopted a system where to avoid leakage, they authorized the judges in Manila, in Quezon City to issue SW nationwide, even outside their territorial jurisdiction,” he added.
Peralta disclosed that when he was an RTC judge in Quezon City, he was one of those authorized to issue search warrants that could be implemented anywhere in the country.