By JOSH AVENGOZA
MANILA – After 16 months, human rights defender Nimfa Lanzanas has been released from prison after a local court in Calamba dismissed the charges against her.
Calamba Regional Trial Court Branch 37 Presiding Judge Caesar C. Buenagua granted Lanzanas’s demurrer to evidence over the alleged violation of illegal possession of firearms, explosives, and ammunition.
She was released from prison on the evening of June 29.
JUST IN. Human rights defender Nimfa Lanzanas walks free after a local court dismissed the charges against her. (Photo courtesy of Defend-Southern Tagalog) pic.twitter.com/VDJTbazQoi
— Bulatlat (@bulatlat) June 29, 2022
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers Spokesperson Jose Deinla said the court granted the demurrer to evidence on two grounds: 1) the police officers conducting the search failed to observe the requirement that the search must be witnessed by the lawful occupant of the premises, and 2) the prosecution failed to present their witnesses to rebut their allegation that the police and their informant asserted deliberate falsehoods during their application for search warrants against Lanzanas.
Lanzanas or Nanay Nimfa was among the four activists arrested on March 7 last year based on a search warrant issued by Manila City 3rd Vice Executive Judge Jason Zapanta. Authorities simultaneously raided houses and offices of activist groups in Southern Tagalog that killed nine others.
During the raid, the police forced Lanzanas and her three young grandchildren to leave their house while they conducted the search.
“Several police officers were left inside the house before representatives from the barangay arrived to witness the so-called search. Later, guns, magazines, bullets, a silencer, and a hand grenade, which were obviously planted, were discovered in various storage boxes and drawers inside the house,” Deinla said.
Deinla said testimonies of the police proved that Lanzanas did not witness the search, as she was guarded by an officer while staying by the door of their house.
In his decision, Buenagua reiterated People v. Del Castillo which states that the lawful occupant or residents of the house should be the ones that should have accompanied the policemen and not the barangay officials.
“Consequently, these irregularities attending implementation tainted the search of the house of the accused with the vice of unreasonableness, thereby constraining this court to apply the exclusionary rule and declare the inadmissibility in evidence of the seized items,” Buenagua said in the 18-page resolution dated June 29.
Read via our mirror site: Rights group decries ‘planting of evidence’ against Tacloban 5
Karapatan welcomed Lanzanas’s acquittal and called for the immediate release of other human rights workers and defenders who are still in prison Alexander Philip Abinguna, Renalyn Tejero, Glendhyl Malabanan, and Alex Pacalda – who, the group said, had “experience the same kind of injustice inflicted on Nay Nimfa and have remained courageous despite threats and imprisonment.”
Karapatan also demands the release of all 802 political prisoners, 592 of them arrested under President Duterte.
“We demand the end to the attacks including judicial harassment against our human rights workers in the government’s failed attempts to stop us from doing our work and advocacy and to suppress political dissent,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay in a statement.
Meanwhile, for NUPL, Lanzanas’s release is a legal triumph and “inspires us to stand our ground, push back and fight amid all the injustice and unrest—especially now that there is a looming Marcos redux on the horizon.” (AMU, JJE)