Philippine judiciary

Batangas court voids a Bloody Sunday search warrant

Lian Buan
Batangas court voids a Bloody Sunday search warrant
Based on Rappler's tally, Erlindo 'Lino' Baez is the 22nd person cleared of illegal possession charges in a yearlong winning streak for activists

A Batangas court has voided the search warrant against one of the activists whose homes were raided in the March 7 Bloody Sunday operations of the police that led to the killings of nine unionists.

The Tanauan City Regional Trial Court Branch 6 voided the search warrant on Erlindo “Lino” Baez of the Batangas chapter of progressive group Bayan, and dismissed the charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against him.

The order was dated October 25, and was released to media on Monday, November 1.

Baez was not among the nine killed during the raids. He was not in his home when the search warrant was implemented, and he was eventually charged with illegal possession, the usual charge against activists.

“The court so holds that the search warrants issued by Honorable Jason Zapanta, Presiding Judge, Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 74, to be null and void,” Tanauan court judge Jose Ricuero Flores said.

“Accordingly, the informations against accused Erlindo Baez are hereby quashed and the cases against him are dismissed. The Tanauan City Police Station is hereby directed to immediately release Baez from custody/detention unless he is being detained for some other legal reasons,” said the order.

According to the Tanauan court, Manila Judge Zapanta’s search warrant for Baez only said “Barangay San Vicente, Sto Tomas, Batangas” and did not specifically describe Baez’s home. There was also no record of Judge Zapanta asking probing questions of the police when they applied for the search.

“It is therefore clear that the subject search warrants failed to specifically and sufficiently describe the place to be searched,” said the Tanauan court, noting that a search warrant must always comply with constitutional requirements.

The Supreme Court has confirmed it was a wholesale application for the Calabarzon region, with 42 warrants granted in two days, mostly in Manila.

Accountability for Bloody Sunday

This is the first known decision against authorities in the Bloody Sunday operations.

The last development was an administrative recommendation from the regional internal affairs service (IAS) of Batangas police to sue for grave irregularity the policemen who killed activist couple Ariel and Ana Mariz “Chai” Evangelista, two of the nine killed.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) special investigation through the A0 35 committee does not have any significant development yet.

“The AO 35 special investigating team on the Bloody Sunday incidents is ready with its first report. Just wait a few more days, we’re just going over it,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters on Monday.

Activists would like the legal battle to not only be confined to clearing themselves of charges, but holding accountable the policemen and possibly the judges who issued the search warrants. They have not been successful in the latter front.

Forensic pathologist Raquel Fortun of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Medicine said initial examination of the victims show they were “shot to be killed” and that “each case deserves a homicide investigation” against policemen.

Winning streak

Based on Rappler’s tally, in 2021 alone, courts nationwide have cleared and dismissed illegal possession charges against 21 activists and one sari-sari store owner, all of whom were searched. These include Baez.

Of those, 19 decisions were to void search, while three were junked on evidence after trial.

In these 22 cases, 11 search warrants were issued by Quezon City Judge Cecilyn Burgos Villavert, five by Manila Judge Jose Lorenzo dela Rosa, and one (Baez case) by Manila Judge Jason Zapanta – the reoccurring names in recent raids.

Activists have been calling for accountability measures against these judges.

The Supreme Court’s response so far has been to scrap the power of Manila and Quezon City judges to issue search warrants outside their judicial regions, and to require policemen to wear body cameras when implementing warrants. – 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.