Crackdown? Same QC judge issues warrants vs 58 activists in Manila, Bacolod

MANILA, Philippines – Bayan Muna has called on the Supreme Court to review the actions of the Quezon City judge who issued search warrants for the offices and homes of activists in Bacolod and Manila.

"Tinatawagan namin ang Supreme Court, especially Chief Justice Peralta, na ireview ang ginawang ito ng isang QC RTC Judge (We are calling on the Supreme Court, especially Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, to review the actions of the QC RTC Judge), and for the High Court to provide mechanisms to discipline judges who abuse legal processes and merely accede to baseless applications for search warrant by state forces," said Bayan Muna Chairman Neri Colmenares on Saturday, November 2.

Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QC RTC) Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert issued the warrants to allow police to conduct searches on the offices of progressive groups in Bacolod and for the house of Kadamay members in Manila on October 30. The search and arrests happened the next day, on October 31.

The search warrant in Bacolod yielded the arrests of 56 people, and the search warrant in Manila yielded the arrests of of Kadamay members Cora Agovida and Michael Tan Bartolome, after authorities recovered firearms and explosives in the different locations.

SC Circular A.M No. 03-8-02-SC empowers the executive judges of the Manila and QC RTCs to issue search warrants that can be served outside their jurisdictions, but following certain procedures.

Section 12, Chapter V of the circular says the Manila and QC executive judges have the authority to act on applications of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), but that the applications "shall be personally endorsed by the heads of such agencies."

For Bayan Muna, the rule means that the PNP chief should have endorsed the application for search warrants.

"Did the OIC PNP Chief endorse it? Under the rules the judge must ensure that the application is endorsed by the head of agency, otherwise she would be violating the rules for issuing the warrant," said Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate.

Procedures

In issuing the search warrant in Bacolod, Judge Villavert said the applicant was Police Chief Master Sargeant Ramiro Gocotano, and in the search warrant in Manila, it was Police Major Michael Villanueva.

Bayan Muna Chairman Neri Colmenares said Villavert must publicize her special docket book.

Under the same circular, the executive judges of Manila and QC "shall keep a special docket book listing names of Judges to whom the applications are assigned, the details of the applications and the results of the searches and seizures made pursuant to the warrants issued."

"Tinatawagan namin ang Supreme Court, especially Chief Justice Peralta na ireview ang ginawang ito ng isang (We are calling on the Supreme Court, especially Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta to review the actions of the) QC RTC Judge, and for the Supreme Court to provide mechanisms to discipline judges who abuse legal processes and merely accede to baseless applications for search warrant by state forces," said Colmenares.

"Such grave abuse of power resulted to the deprivation of liberty of numerous legitimate activists, in violation of their constitutional rights," he added.

The arrested individuals were charged with the non-bailable offenses of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, the usual charges against activists.

"This is another case indicating a crackdown against activists. All elements, including the use of illegal possession of firearms and explosives to charge activists, are glaring in this latest arrest targeting critics of the government," said rights group Karapatan.

New National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Debold Sinas denied that there was a crackdown on the Left.

"I don’t think so, that there is a crackdown on militant groups. It was just an ordinary implementation," Sinas told reporters during a press briefing on Friday, November 1. Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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