By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – A court has dismissed the illegal possession of firearms and explosives charges against labor organizer Dennise Velasco.
On March 2, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 220 Judge Jose Paneda decided that there was no probable cause for the issuance of search warrants against Velasco. He said that the judge, in this case, Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert, failed to conduct “probing and exhaustive inquiry” when the police applied for the said warrant.
Paneda granted Velasco’s motion to quash the search warrant, suppress the evidence and to dismiss the case.
JUST IN: A Quezon City court has dismissed the charges against labor organizer Dennise Velasco, one of the seven activists and unionists arrested on Dec. 10, 2020. pic.twitter.com/XGw85GQRiP
— Bulatlat (@bulatlat) March 7, 2022
“Regrettably, even the examination conducted by the issuing judge on the applicant and witnesses fell short of the required probing and exhaustive inquiry for the determination of the existence of probable cause. It did not even occur to the examining judge to clarify with the police officers how they conducted the surveillance confirmatory operation against Rodrigo Esparago’s group on Nov. 27, 2020,” Paneda added.
Velasco is one of the seven activists arrested on International Human Rights Day in 2020.
In March 2021, the local court of Mandaluyong dismissed all charges against journalist Lady Ann Salem and labor organizer Rodrigo Esparago, both arrested on the same day as Velasco and whose warrants were also issued by Burgos-Villavert.
Labor organizers Romina Astudillo, Mark Ryan Cruz, Jaymie Gregorio and Joel Demate remain in jail with the same charges.
In his decision, Paneda stressed that there are rules pertaining to the issuance of search warrants, particularly, Section 2 Article III of the Constitution as well Sections 4 and 5 of Rule of 126 of the 2000 Rules on Criminal Procedure.
“To paraphrase this rule, a search warrant may be issued only if there is probable cause in connection with a specific offense alleged in an application based on the personal knowledge of the applicant and his witnesses,” the decision read.
“This is the substantive requirement for the issuance of a search warrant. Procedurally, the determination of probable cause is a personal task of the judge before whom the application for search warrant is filed, as he has to examine the applicant and his or her witnesses in the form of ‘searching questions and answers’ in writing and under oath,” he added.
Paneda noted that nowhere in the affidavit and testimonies of witnesses, “was it mentioned that they have personal knowledge of the accused’s lack of license or permit to carry a firearm.”
The witness, he said, “only affirmed that he made the request for a verification report to confirm if the persons allegedly in possession of the firearms are licensed to possess or not.”
In a statement, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said that, “such findings only prove how State forces are hell-bent at quelling the exercise of labor rights being promoted by trade union organizers such as Velasco as well as activists in general.”
“The police and their perjured witnesses had been so desperate to pin down the trade union efforts of Velasco that they even went to the bounds of concocting the fantastic narratives against him and the five other trade union organizers, including Salem, that they are purported members of a gun-running syndicate,” the group added.
However, the group said the dismissal of Velasco’s case is another “proof at how the law has been weaponized against the exercise of freedoms and rights and the justice system twisted to a certain extent, which institutions should have been one of the people’s recourse when their rights and freedoms are trampled upon.”
The case of the #HRDay 7 is among the several cases of what rights group call “copy-paste” warrants issued by Burgos-Villavert.
Burgos-Villavert is also the judge who issued search 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.
The court also dismissed the charges against Suaybaguio in September last year. (RTS, RVO)