By JONAS ALPASAN
MANILA — Another Philippine court acquitted a peace consultant of trumped-up charges stemming from the infamous “search warrant factory” that led to the arrests of scores of activists and human rights workers.
In a statement, the Public Interest Law Center said the Quezon City Regional Court Branch 219 has dismissed the illegal possession of firearms and explosives charges against its client, peace consultant Esterlita Suaybaguio. PILC welcomed the decision “as a triumph over a policy of filing trumped-up charges against activists, and particularly, peace consultants.”
Suaybaguio is a consultant in the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. She was arrested in 2019, despite being covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) that guarantees the safety of those involved in the peace process from any form of politically-motivated attacks.
She is also a women’s rights advocate and the campaign coordinator of Gabriela Metro Manila.
The warrant used against her was issued by Quezon City Executive Judge Cecilyn E. Burgos-Villavert, whom human rights defenders have assailed as a factory of “copy-paste’ warrants. Apart from Suaybaguio, other peace consultants arrested using warrants issued by Villavert are Vicente Ladlad and Rey Casambre.
In its decision, the Quezon City court said the prosecution failed to prove that Suaybaguio had no authority to possess a firearm and a hand grenade.
“The lack of license is an essential element of the offense which the prosecution has the duty not only to allege, but to also prove beyond reasonable doubt, emphasized Judge Janet Abergos-Samar in her decision,” PILC said.
Abergos-Samar also pointed out the the gun purportedly found in Suaybaguio’s possession had a serial number registered to a security agency.
“In truth, police officers stormed her unit in the early morning and immediately pushed and pinned her to the sink, preventing her from viewing the commotion inside the unit. When she was finally extricated, she was shocked to learn that a police officer had allegedly found a 9MM firearm and a hand grenade inside her bag, which were actually not there at any time before,” PILC said.
Suaybaguio’s lawyers said “her acquittal adds to the victory in a string of cases against activists which have been recently dismissed.”
Among these include the dismissal of similar trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against journalist Lady Ann Salem and spouses Alexander and Winona Marie Birondo.