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MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the case against journalist Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago.
In a resolution made public on Wednesday, September 6, the CA’s Twelfth Division dismissed the government’s motion for reconsideration assailing the CA’s earlier decision. In its January 2023 decision, appellate court affirmed the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 209 decision to quash the search warrants issued against Salem and Esparago.
In its resolution penned by Associate Justice Jose Lorenzo dela Rosa, with the concurrence Associate Justices Nina Antonio-Valenzuela and Emily Aliño-Geluz, the division said they did not find any compelling reason to reverse their earlier decision.
The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), as the state’s primary legal counsel, represented the government. The OSG filed the motion for reconsideration (MR) on February 28, 2023.
According to the CA, the OSG raised the following arguments in its motion:
- Search Warrant No. 6044 (20) is valid as it satisfied the requirement of specificity
- A search warrant is severable, and that a general description of some items will not invalidate the entire warrant
- Inconsistent testimonies of witnesses in the application for the search warrants do not affect the probable cause finding of the public respondent judge
- The implementation of the search warrants was proper and in accordance with the law
However, the motion failed to present any new and substantial argument that would justify the reconsideration of the earlier ruling, the CA noted. The court added that the filing of an MR does not impose on the CA “the obligation to discuss and rule again on the grounds relied upon by petitioner.”
The appellate court added that the issue raised on the inconsistent statements and testimonies of the witnesses, including the improper implementation of search warrants, “had been considered, weighed, and passed upon by the Court in its Decision.” The CA reiterated that the MR does not impose on the court the obligation to deal individually and specifically with the grounds raised in the case.
What happened before
Salem and Esparago, along with 5 other activists, were arrested on December 10, 2020, during the celebration of International Human Rights Day. In February 2021, Mandaluyong RTC Branch 209 Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio cleared the two of the charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, saying that the search warrant used to arrest them was void.
Judge Quisumbing-Ignacio said the search warrant issued by Quezon City Judge Cecilyn Burgos Villavert was null and void, so the firearms and explosives allegedly seized from the two were inadmissible or could not be used as evidence.
On March 5, 2021, Salem and Esparago walked free from jail. The two were among the progressive individuals who fell victim on the so-called “warrant factory,” where the warrants issued by Judge Villavert were used on the crackdown against activists.
One of the activists arrested through Villavert-issued warrant was Reina Mae Nasino, who gave birth and lost her daughter, Baby River, while in jail. In Nasino’s case, the Court of Appeals, in 2022, voided the search warrants for failure “to meet the standards of a valid search warrant, and all evidence procured by virtue thereof are deemed inadmissible.”