“The questions left unanswered and the inconsistencies not clarified belies the existence of probable cause which justify the issuance of the search warrants. For this reason, the warrants should be quashed.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – A Quezon City court quashed search warrants and declared the evidence against two peace talks staff inadmissible, citing questionable testimonies of the police’s witness.
In a statement, the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), counsels for peace talks staff Alexander and Winona Birondo said that the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City Branch 77 quashed two search warrants issued by Executive Judge Cecilyn E. Burgos-Villavert which was used to search the couple’s rented apartment in Quezon City.
The Birondos were arrested in 2019. A witness of the police, a certain Brian T. Reyes who said he was “a janitor” claimed that he saw firearms while peeking into the unit of the couple. This was the basis of the police to apply for a search warrant which was granted by Burgos-Villavert.
“In his resolution dated Aug. 13, Judge Ferdinand C. Baylon of RTC Branch 77 said that the ‘sudden appearance’ of Reyes as a police witness was suspect, as well as the circumstances of how he came to be there, and what he saw. Ambiguities and inconsistencies could have been clarified during the hearing on the search warrants, which the Executive Judge of Quezon City failed to do,” said PILC’s Managing Counsel Rachel Pastores in a statement.
“The questions left unanswered and the inconsistencies not clarified belies the existence of probable cause which justify the issuance of the search warrants. For this reason, the warrants should be quashed,” Baylon said in his resolution.
Baylon said that it appears that the witness only started collecting garbage in July, the same month when the couple was arrested and “when the search warrants were applied for and implemented.”
“His history and identity was not sufficiently established. In his sworn statement, he identified himself as maintenance janitor of the apartment. However, during his testimony in court, he stated that he was a garbage collector paid by the tenant to collect their garbage and was in fact not an employee of the said apartment complex,” Baylon said in his resolution.
The witness also had not met the tenant of the unit, which is the Birondos. “So who pays for him for collecting the garbage in said unit?” Baylon said.
It was also not established how the witness was acquired/identified by the police as a potential witness to the application for search warrants, Baylon said. He also said that the police officer who allegedly talked to him was also not presented in court, “this failing to shed any illumination on how he was discovered as a witness.”
With loopholes in the issuance of the search warrants as well as the integrity of the witness, the PILC questioned these in court.
“The PILC is well acquainted with the use of false witnesses and contrived testimonies by the police in obtaining search warrants against targets of state persecution, particularly our clients who have been part of the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines,” Pastores said.
The Birondos were first arrested in 2015 together with a peace consultant. They were released to be part of the talks throughout 2016-2017. In 2018, the charges against them were dismissed.
The PILC said that the arrest of the Birondos on July 23, 2019 was a result of President Duterte’s public tirades on the peace talks – “but the police were in a quandary how to justify it.”
“Police first said that they were pursuing a ‘wanted criminal’ when the Birondos intervened and prevented arrest; the Birondos were charged with obstruction of justice,” Pastores said.
“Later that day, the police claimed to have information that the Birondos were in possession of firearms and a grenade, and applied for warrants for their apartment. They implemented the warrant in the evening of July 23, 2019, while the Birondos were in custody at Camp Caringal and clearly not in physical possession of any firearm and grenade,” Pastores added.
Although approved for filing by the City Prosecutor of Quezon City, Pastores said the two charges have floundered in court on basic factual issues.
“In the obstruction of justice case, the alleged warrant of arrest against the ‘wanted criminal’ was later found to be different from that in the records of the court in Samar. That case is still pending before the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City,” she added.
“The pernicious practice of securing warrants against activists and peace workers can be countered with keen vigilance and the observance of due process. But as the evils in the administration of justice are sought to be averted, we in PILC and those in other law groups will continue to engage and defend in the courts. The struggle is far from over,” Pastores said.
Human rights group Karapatan labeled Burgos-Villavert as a factory of “copy-paste’ warrants, which led to the arrests of 57 activists in Negros island and five activists in Metro Manila in 2019. She was also the judge who issued warrants for the arrest of National Democratic Front peace consultants Vicente Ladlad, Rey Casambre, Estrelita Suaybaguio, and Villamor couple.