“Nothing now stands in the way of freedom for Reina Mae Nasino, Alma Moran and Ram Carlo Bautista after nearly three years in jail for an offense they did not commit because it was a pure police invention.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – A human rights group is calling for the immediate release of political prisoners Reina Mae Nasino, Alma Moran and Ram Bautista after the Court of Appeals (CA) voided two search warrants which led to their arrest in November 2019.
These search warrants were issued by Quezon City Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert.
In a statement, Fides Lim, spokesperson of Kapatid, a support group for families and friends of political prisoners, asked the courts to order their prompt release. “Nothing now stands in the way of freedom for Reina Mae Nasino, Alma Moran and Ram Carlo Bautista after nearly three years in jail for an offense they did not commit because it was a pure police invention.”
She added, “Let Reina Mae now visit the grave of her baby daughter and mourn her in peace, which was so cruelly denied her during the wake and burial of River.”
The CA decision was made public on August 31 on its website. The CA 12th Division granted the petition for certiorari filed by the three activists against Manila Presiding Judge Marivic T. Balisi-Umali of the Regional Trial Court Branch 20. All evidence gathered in the conduct of the search were also deemed inadmissible.
Void search warrants
In the recent decision of the CA, Associate Justice Emily L. San Gaspar-Gito noted the discrepancies in the application for the search warrants which have three different addresses.
She said these irregularities in the application and the implementation of the search warrants “are more than enough to debunk the presumption of regularity of performance of official duties.”
Gito also noted that the search made in Bautista’s room was not made in his presence.
In many instances of search by the authorities in houses or even offices of activists, the subject of search warrants were made to leave the premises of their house while the law enforcers are searching the area.
Gito also noted that even though the subject of the search warrant was only Bautista, activists Alma Moran and Reina Mae Nasino, were also subjected to search. Several items were also confiscated from Moran and Nasino.
“Clearly, petitioners’ right against unreasonable search and seizures was blatantly trampled upon,” Gito said in the decision, stressing that Section 8, Rule 126 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that search of house, room or premise should be made in the presence of two witnesses, including the subject of the search.
“In the present case, petitioners were actually present in the place but what is disconcerting is that petitioner Bautista was required to leave the room while the search was being conducted. It was only later on that he was called and the items seized were shown to him. This is irregular,” the decision read.
The CA ruling also noted the judge’s failure in asking probing questions to the applicants of the search warrant.
“It is required that the said examination must be probing and exhaustive and not merely routinary, general, peripheral or perfunctory,” Giron said, citing a Supreme Court jurisprudence which states the guidelines in the conduct of examination of the applicant and witnesses before a search warrant may be issued.
She added that the glaring discrepancy in the addresses in the search warrant would have been clarified had there been a thorough examination of the applicant and his witnesses.
“With the erroneous addresses that were never clarified, there is but one logical conclusion, i.e., the applicant and his witnesses did not really have personal knowledge of the surrounding facts which would have justified the issuance of the subject search warrants. Consequently, the existence of probable cause is doubtful,” the CA decision read.
‘Litigation, not merely a game of technicalities’
The CA also brushed aside the late filing of an omnibus motion for reconsideration filed by the three activists.
Giron said that while procedural rules are not to be belittled, however, she said that litigation is not merely a game of technicalities.
“Law and jurisprudence grant to courts the prerogative to relax compliance with procedural rules of even the most mandatory character, mindful of the duty to reconcile both the need to put an end to litigation speedily and the parties’ right to an opportunity to be heard,” the CA decision read.
She added that the denial of Manila Presiding Judge Marivic T. Balisi-Umali of the joint omnibus motion for reconsideration simply on the ground that it was filed five days beyond the required period “is simply too strict a sanction compared with what petitioners stand to lose by reason of such denial.”
The CA noted that Bautista and others have repeatedly requested for the record of the application of search warrants which was only granted after they filed the present petition in the appellate court.
“This is obviously prejudicial to them as they failed to fully argue on the merits of the motions before the respondent Judge. At the same time, there was no concrete basis for the respondent Judge to arrive at the denial of their motions,” the decision read.
Meanwhile the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) welcomed the CA’s decision.
In a statement, the group said that the CA’s decision further proves how state forces could be hell-bent to implicate activists and rights defenders in common crimes and besmirch the work that they do for the advancement of basic human rights.
NUPL said that while the decision spells freedom for Bautista, Moran and Nasino, however, “it could not bring back the days and months lost for them that they could have spent with their families, colleagues and for the legitimate advocacies for the workers, the urban poor and the marginalized that they have always been promoting.”
“And who could ever forget the hardest blow that these three years of unjust imprisonment yielded, which is the untimely demise of Baby River, who was forced to be born behind bars and weaned off her unjustly detained mother’s breast and care,” NUPL said.
Nasino, who was pregnant at the time of her arrest, gave birth to River Emmanuelle who later died due to illness brought about by poor nutrition aggravated by the lack of breast milk.
Read our reports about Baby River.
Meanwhile, Lim appeals to all courts trying cases that also arose from the search warrants issued by Villavert, “to take a hard look at the inconsistent and incredulous testimonies of police witnesses and likewise dismiss the cases for clearly being trumped up against activists.”
“They include my husband Vicente Ladlad, 73, and Alberto and Virginia Villamor, 68 and 70. They have been in jail for nearly four years now since their arrest for planted firearms and explosives on November 8, 2018 and their health is deteriorating amid the pandemic,” Lim said. (RTS, DAA)