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MANILA, Philippines – Following the acquittal of activist Reina Mae Nasino, rights group Kapatid urged the Supreme Court again to review the so-called “warrant factory,” which has led to numerous arrests of activists in the country.
“We further appeal anew to the Supreme Court to review and conduct a judicial audit of all cases of activists which stemmed from Judge Cecilyn Burgos Villavert as court after court dismisses her search warrant cases for being flawed and devoid of evidence,” Kapatid, which advocates for the rights of political prisoners, said in a statement on Friday, July 28.
The demurrer to evidence filed by Nasino, Ram Carlo Bautista, and Alma Moran was granted by Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 47 seven months after they were released on bail. The three were arrested in 2019 at the height of the government’s crackdown against progressive groups and activists.
The grant of the demurrer to evidence has the same effect as acquittal, so the three were cleared of the illegal possession of firearms and explosives charges filed against them.
Kapatid, in its statement, noted that at least 76 activists, including Nasino, were arrested for illegal possession of firearms and explosives issued by Judge Villavert, the executive judge of Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC).
“Most of them still languish in jail, including Vicente Ladlad and Alberto and Virginia Villamor who had taken him into their home. All the victims of the search warrant factory of Judge Cecilyn Burgos Villavert must likewise be released as a matter of justice,” Kapatid added.
The rights group also urged the Ombudsman to resolve the complaints filed by Nasino against the Manila police and her jail guards. The activist accused them of mental torture, which, according to the activist, was an administrative offense. Those who faced the complaint were the jail guards who refused to allow her newborn baby to be with her in prison, and those who were present in her daughter’s fully guarded funeral.
In a separate statement, another rights group, Karapatan, welcomed Nasino’s release. However, the rights group also called for the release of other political prisoners on the country.
“Such fabricated and baseless charges were likewise heaped on 778 political prisoners, as they continue to face the harsh conditions in jails and the injustice in our justice system. Nearly 300 of them are charged with the very same charges, all propped by the convoluted and false testimonies of police and military, against Nasino, Moran, and Bautista,” Karapatan said in a statement on Friday.
For years, progressive groups and activists have been calling on the SC to review Judge Villavert’s warrants.
The High Court’s Circular AM No. 03-8-02-SC allows executive judges of the Manila and QC RTC to issue search warrants that can be used outside of their jurisdictions, but with certain limitations. Section 12, Chapter V of the circular said the executive judges can act on the applications of the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation, but the applications “shall be personally endorsed by the heads of such agencies.”
In various occasions, other courts voided the warrants issued by Judge Villavert.
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.”
Prior to that, Mandaluyong RTC Branch 209 Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio also voided a warrant issued by the QC executive judge. Judge Quisumbing-Ignacio dismissed the cases against journalist Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago after she ruled that the search warrant was vague and allowed the operating teams to grab all they wanted, resulting in a “fishing expedition.” – Rappler.com