Karapatan is calling for the immediate dismissal of all “death warrants” issued last March as well as the release of Lino Baez and his co-accused Anakpawis party-list Batangas Coordinator Wilfredo Capareño.
By JUSTIN UMALI
SANTA CRUZ, Laguna – A Batangas court dismissed the charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives filed against Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Batangas Spokesperson Erlindo ‘Lino’ Baez, October 25.
Presiding Judge Jose Recuerdo P. Flores of Branch 6, Tanauan Regional Trial Court granted the omnibus motion filed by Baez’s lawyer Luz J. Perez of Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA), moving for a quashal of the search warrant issued against him, among others.
SENTRA asserted that presiding judge Jason J. Zapanta of the Manila RTC Branch 174 who issued the search warrant against Baez “had no authority to act on the applications of search warrants to be enforced in Batangas.” SENTRA contended that the search warrants used against Baez were not endorsed by the proper agency, that the Executive Judge of the Manila RTC was not present at the time of issuance, and that there was no justifiable reason why the Manila RTC would grant the application of the warrant.
The court concurred with the motion, concluding that the issuance of the warrant failed to meet all requisites needed to be considered ‘proper’.
It noted that the location indicated in the search warrant was stated as ‘Brgy. San Vicente, Sto. Tomas City, Batangas’ with no “pictures and/or documents attached to them that might help any peace officer to ascertain and identify the intended place to be search and distinguish it from other places in the community.”
The court also questioned Zapanta’s determination of probable cause for the search warrant, stating that “nothing in the records … indicating that the issuing judge personally and thoroughly examined the applicant and his witnesses.”
The Tanauan RTC moved to declare the search warrant null and void, and dismissed all charges filed against Baez. It then ordered the Tanauan police to immediately release Baez from custody.
Although Baez is no longer in police custody in Tanauan, he is not yet free. Police have transferred him to Quezon province and have been refusing to release him on account of his October 6 arrest in Sariaya, Quezon province on another accusation of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Still, rights groups and organizations are heralding this as a win. Human rights watchdog Karapatan Southern Tagalog welcomed the decision, noting that of the warrants issued on March 7, Baez’s was the first one that was dismissed.
A total of 63 search warrants were heard by four judges, of which 42 were approved. At least 24 were served on March 7, resulting in the deaths of nine activists and arrest of six others. The March 7 killings and arrests are now being referred to as Bloody Sunday.
Read: Bloody Sunday archives
Of the 24 warrants, at least three were signed by Zapanta. One warrant was issued against Nimfa Lanzanas, a paralegal working for KAPATID Southern Tagalog. Her house in Calamba, Laguna was raided before daybreak and she was arrested on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Read: Nimfa Lanzanas, a woman with a big heart
The other warrant was served to Chai Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista of Nasugbu, Batangas, who were both organizers of the environmental organization UMALPAS KA inside Hacienda Looc. Unlike Lanzanas, the Evangelista couple did not live to see the light of dawn.
Vice Executive Judge Jose Lorenzo Dela Rosa, meanwhile, also issued at least three warrants, resulting in the arrests of Mags Camoral of BAYAN Laguna and Steve Mendoza, executive vice president of labor center PAMANTIK-KMU; and the death of BAYAN Cavite Spokesperson Emmanuel Asuncion.
Read: Manny Asuncion: A worker who embraced the bigger fight for social justice
Asuncion’s warrant was for his residence in Rosario, Cavite, but was issued in Dasmariñas, where he was staying at the time. A police report claimed that a chase and shoot-out occurred, despite testimonies stating that Asuncion spent the previous night at the Workers’ Assistance Center in Dasmariñas where he was eventually shot and killed.
Judge Dela Rosa was also the judge who signed the warrant which led to the killing of nine Tumandok leaders in Panay last December 2020.
The dismissal of the warrant issued against Baez casts doubt on the legitimacy of the other warrants issued on Bloody Sunday. Karapatan has long derided the Bloody Sunday massacre as the “result of death warrants signed by warrant factories.”
Rights groups have also derided the sluggishness of the judicial process. The Free Laguna 5 Network has noted that Camoral has yet to stand trial once since his arrest last March 7. Steve Mendoza’s lawyer, meanwhile, was not allowed an entry of appearance during their last hearing and was not informed that the hearing would be conducted online.
Karapatan is calling for the immediate dismissal of all “death warrants” issued last March as well as the release of Baez and his co-accused Anakpawis party-list Batangas Coordinator Wilfredo Capareño.
Both Baez and Capareño were engaged in community work in Sariaya when their house was raided on Oct. 6 at around 2 a.m. by combined elements of the police and military. (RVO)