activist groups in PH

Negros Occidental activist is latest to win ‘warrant factory’ case

Jairo Bolledo

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Negros Occidental activist is latest to win ‘warrant factory’ case

Rights group Karapatan says the warrants issued by Quezon City Executive Judge Jocelyn Burgos-Villavert led to the arrest and filing of cases against 76 activists between 2018 to 2020

MANILA, Philippines – A Negros Occidental activist is the latest to win a case stemming from a judge’s so-called “warrant factory.”

Imelda Sultan, a local leader of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) in Escalante City, Negros Occidental province, was acquitted on July 10 of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, human rights group Karapatan said on Thursday, July 11.

Sultan was arrested on November 1, 2019 for illegal possession of firearms, but rights groups claimed the weapons were planted.

Earlier, Lindy Perocho, Sultan’s colleague, was also cleared of the same charge. She was arrested along with Sultan in 2019 based on a warrant issued by Quezon City Executive Judge Jocelyn Burgos-Villavert.

“They endured five years of unjust detention. Their acquittal provides added proof of the flimsy and capricious bases for the issuance of Judge Villavert’s search warrants against activists,” Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said.

Sultan and Perocho are the latest activists to score a win against warrants issued by Villavert.

Rappler monitoring showed that at least 32 activists, including the two Negros Occidental activists, have walked free after securing dismissal of their cases. According to Karapatan, the warrants issued by Villavert led to the arrest and filing of cases against 76 activists from 2018 to 2020. 

Majority of the cases were junked after several courts, including the Court of Appeals (CA) and the Supreme Court (SC), voided the warrants. Although several activists have already been freed, some still languish in detention.

“Karapatan will continue to campaign for and demand the release of other activists who are still languishing in jail because of Judge Villavert’s spurious search warrants…These are Vicente Ladlad, couple Alberto and Virginia Villamor, Joel Demate, Mark Ryan Cruz, and Jaymie Gregorio Jr. who are detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City; and Romina Astudillo who is being held at Camp Karingal in Quezon City,” Palabay said.

‘Warrant factory’

Activist groups had described Villavert as being a “warrant factory” for issuing multiple warrants against activists. She even issued warrants executed in other parts of the country based on SC Circular AM No. 03-8-02-SC, which empowers executive judges of the Manila and Quezon City Regional Trial Courts to issue search warrants that can be served outside their jurisdictions, but following certain procedures.

Section 12, Chapter V of the circular says Manila and Quezon City executive judges have the authority to act on applications of the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation, but that the applications “shall be personally endorsed by the heads of such agencies.”

Villavert was the judge who issued warrants against activists Reina Mae Nasino, who was pregnant at the time of her arrest, and Ram Carlo Bautista and Alma Moran. Like Sultan and Perocho, the three were slapped with illegal possession of firearms and explosives charges, but they said the police planted the evidence. 

Nasino gave birth to her daughter, Baby River, while in jail and at the height of the pandemic. While Nasino was detained, Baby River died shortly after her mother filed a motion for furlough. Nasino later walked free after they were granted bail and courts voided the warrants issued by Villavert. Last April, the SC upheld the voiding of Nasino’s warrant, followed by a Manila court’s decision clearing them of all their charges.

Aside from Nasino, journalist Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparrago were also arrested based on a Villavert-issued warrant. A Mandaluyong court later cleared the two of their charges, saying the search warrant used to arrest them was void. The CA later affirmed the lower court’s decision.

In 2021, the SC scrapped the power of Quezon City and Manila judges to issue warrants outside of their jurisdiction. For years, activists have been calling on the SC to probe judges like Villavert for alleged errors in the warrants they issued.

Must Read

Activists oppose associate justice bid of ‘warrant factory’ judge

Activists oppose associate justice bid of ‘warrant factory’ judge

Villavert is now gunning for an associate justice seat at Sandiganbayan and CA, and activists have opposed her bid. –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Avatar photo


Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.