CA affirms dismissal of trumped-up case vs. journalist, trade unionist

In a decision dated Jan. 27, CA Associate Justice Lorenzo R. Dela Rosa said that the “granting of the quashal of the search warrants is only proper and just.”


MANILA – Lawyers of Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and trade union leader Rodrigo Esparago welcomed the recent decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) affirming the ruling of the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court quashing the search warrants issued against them.

In a decision dated Jan. 27, CA Associate Justice Lorenzo R. Dela Rosa said that the “granting of the quashal of the search warrants is only proper and just.”

“Consequently, without probable cause, the search warrants that were issued are null and void, and the seizure of the items was illegal,” the decision read.

He added that the argument of the petitioners that a search warrant is serverable, and thus the suppression of the firearms and explosives is grossly improper, “does not hold water.”

On Feb. 6, 2021, Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio of Mandaluyong RTC Branch 209 declared the search warrants used against the residence of Salem and Esparago are null and void.

Read: Court junks charges vs. journalist, labor organizer
Read: Mandaluyong court orders release of journalist Lady Ann Salem, union organizer

This decision of the Mandaluyong RTC was appealed by the state.

In a statement, the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) said that the CA’s affirmation of Ignacio’s decision, “strengthened the role of a reviewing judge in reexamining the evidence upon the police’s application.”

“Our clients lost time, opportunities, and peace of mind with these charges that turned out to be founded on deceit. This case is a classic example of a heavy hand in a colored political context – Salem was a member of the alternative press tagged for being a critic of government – but has also paved the way for the judiciary to showcase its fairness and independence,” the PILC said in a statement.

Salem, Esparago and five others, collectively called as HRDay7, were arrested in four separate raids on Dec. 10, 2020, following the issuance of search warrants by Quezon City Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert.

Those arrested also include trade union organizers Mark Ryan Cruz, Romina Astudillo, Jaymie Gregorio and Joel Demate.

Read: On International Human Rights Day, one journalist, 6 activists arrested in separate raids

In its decision, the CA also noted the inconsistencies in the statements of the witnesses against Salem and Esparago.

The prosecution argues that these inconsistencies were minor. But the CA said that the Mandaluyong RTC “correctly ruled that the cited inconsistencies and contradictions pertain to material details, and not trivial matters.”

“These details touch on the existence of the subject firearms, ammunition and explosives,” Lorenzo said in the decision. Possession of these items by the respondents, in this case Salem and Esparago, cannot be regarded as minor or trivial, the CA associate justice added.

The CA said the witnesses failed to provide clear and consistent testimonies regarding material information such as who took photos of the firearms that were being delivered, in which bag were the items given for transport, who were the persons in M Place condominium to whom they dropped off the items, and when the witness started transacting with Salem and Esparago, “significantly erodes the credibility of their testimonies to which the search warrants were based.”

With this, the CA said that the Mandaluyong RTC did not err in reversing the finding of probable cause based on false and inconsistent testimonies of the witnesses.

What is a valid search warrant

For the search warrant to be valid, the CA said it requires: 1) probable cause is present; 2) such probable cause must be determined personally by the judge; 3) The judge should examine it, in writing and under oath or affirmation, the complainant and the witnesses he or she may produce; 4) the applicant and the witnesses testify on the facts personally known to them; and 5) the warrant specifically describes the place to be searched and the things to be seized.

“The absence of any of these requisites will cause the downright nullification of the search warrant. A search warrant must conform strictly to the constitutional requirements for its issuance; otherwise, it is void,” the decision read.

The CA also said that a valid search warrant must particularly describe the place to be searched and things to be seized.

Lorenzo also said in his ruling that truly, a search warrant does not need to describe the items to be seized in precise and minute detail. However, he reminded trial court judges to conduct an astute and exhaustive examination in granting and issuing a search warrant.

Lorenzo noted that in the said search warrant, there was no reasonable particularity of the description for the laptop and the cellphone that would have guided the searching officers to which laptop and cellphone to confiscate.

“As correctly held by the RTC, not knowing which cellphone and laptop the searching officers were supposed to seize, the raiding team took all that they found and undertook a ‘fishing expedition to seize and confiscate’ any and all cellphones and laptops they found in the premises,” the decision read.

The searching officers also confiscated items that are not even listed in the said search warrant. The CA decision said that Salem and Esparago are correct when they claimed that the said confiscated items do not bear direct relation to the offense that resulted in the issuance of the search warrant.

Salem and Esparago were released in March 2021. Dennise Velasco, also a trade union organizer, was also released last year.

Following the CA’s affirmation of Mandaluyong RTC decision, the PILC said they “trust that judges will henceforth take the lead of Judge Ignacio in more meticulous appraisal of police operations, eschewing an institutional reliance on the presumption of regularity of duty.”

“We are thankful for other judges of politically-motivated warrants cases for making principled and intelligent stances in favor of the people and their constitutional rights. As trust in law enforcement dips to an all time-low, it is meaningful and comforting to know that the people may still ask for protection and place their hope in the courts and other pillars of the criminal justice system,” the PILC added.

Read: Truth-tagging? | Courts junk cases vs red-tagged activists, peace consultants
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Read: Dismissed cases: A look at the invalid search warrants vs red-tagged activists

Meanwhile, the PILC called for the immediate release of the rest of the HRDay 7 “whose arrests were on the basis of the same evidence as Salem’s.”

“We support the release of all other political prisoners taken to jail on false charges, and warn against the taking of any more,” PILC said. (JJE, RVO) (

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