“This is a very welcome news as we gear for the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) — which is historically rooted in anti-dictatorship struggle of women activists.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Progressive groups welcomed the acquittal of activist couple Cora Agovida and Michael Bartolome by a Manila court on Wednesday, Nov. 24.
Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 19 Presiding Judge Marlo A. Magdoza-Malagar said in his decision that the prosecution failed to prove that Bartolome and Agovida are guilty of the charges filed by the authorities against them.
In a statement, human rights group Karapatan said that decisions of courts junking charges against activists “reaffirm the assertions of those unjustly arrested and detained that there were violations of their rights to due process, that evidence were planted against them and that the charges are all made up by a regime that desperately seeks to silence activists and defenders.”
“This is a very welcome news as we gear for the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) — which is historically rooted in anti-dictatorship struggle of women activists,” Gabriela Women’s Party said in a statement.
“This follows the release of female journalist Lady Ann Salem and GABRIELA Metro Manila campaign officer Esterlita Suaybaguio. These recent developments are proof that women activists are winning against the Duterte regime’s machinations to silence political dissent,” the group added.
The couple was arrested on Oct. 31, 2019 by virtue of a search warrant issued by Quezon City Executive Judge Cecilyn E. Burgos-Villavert.
Villavert is controversial due to her issuance of search warrants which led to the arrests of activists. Many of the warrants she issued were found to be defective by other courts.
The judge noted several inconsistencies in the testimonies of the authorities and irregularities in the implementation of the search warrants.
The court also noted the testimonies of prosecution witnesses regarding the exact location of the firearms and hand grenades that were recovered during the search.
Malagar said this affected “the very element of the offense charged which is possession.”
“The foregoing inconsistencies refer to facts constituting an important aspect of the case that is the recovery of the firearms and hand grenades in the possession or custody of the accused. They significantly erode the credibility of the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, juxtaposed against the forthright and consistent testimonies of the accused and their insistence that the evidence against them were planted.”
The members of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) were also not named and also did not testify to the court.
Malagar noted the couple’s assertion that the evidence against them was planted “particularly between the time (the) SWAT entered the room and the arrival of the second group of police officers.”
“The possibility of said claim was evident from the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses themselves,” he said.
“Their failure to account for their actions hints at the irregularity in the performance of their official functions, effectively overcoming the presumption of regularity in the performance of their official duties accorded in their favor,” Malagar added.
Malagar said that the irregularities in the implementation of the search warrants “brings the court back to Bartolome and Agovida’s protestation at the very onset of these cases – that the application and issuance of the search warrants were improper and had no bases.”
“If the evidence against Bartolome and Agovida were planted, which possibility was not foreclosed, what was then the basis for the application of the search warrants against them? Was there probable cause for their issuance as required by the Constitution?” Malagar asked.
Malagar also added that during the trial there was no reference to the application of the search warrants, adding that police officers who testified in court were not the ones who applied for the search warrants and also did not know who applied for it.
“It is a matter of judicial notice that the application and implementation of search warrants are susceptible to abuse. A number even resulted in death under disputed circumstances, that these judicial orders had been dubbed by some as ‘death warrants.’” Malagar said.
Meanwhile Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat said that the release of Agovida and Bartolome is a manifestation that amid the injustices, the truth, that they are innocent and cases against them are trumped up, prevails.
Cullamat also said that this shows that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict is useless.
“This agency only spreads misinformation and red-tags people that put their lives in danger,” Cullmat said in her statement adding that the agency is only a waste of public funds.