Groups call for disqualification of judge who issued questionable search warrants

(Photo by Carlo Manalansan / Bulatlat)


MANILA – “Disqualify Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert.”

This is the call of human rights defenders and former political prisoners who are urging the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to disqualify Villavert from the position she is applying for.

Villavert was shortlisted for promotion to the posts of Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals and Associate Justice of the Sandiganbayan.

“With her track record of abuse of power and authority, Judge Villavert is unfit to hold any position in the judiciary, let alone be promoted. She is not a person of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence,” Karapatan said in their letter to the JBC.

Villavert was controversial because of her issuance of questionable search warrants that led to the arrests of several activists during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. Karapatan said that at least 76 activists between 2018 and 2020 were slapped with trumped-up charges.

Among the most controversial search warrants issued by Judge Villavert was that for activists Reina Mae Nasino, Ram Carlo Bautista and Alma Moran.

“Apart from the glaring irregularities of this search warrant, its issuance led to travesties such as the subjects’ unjust detention for more than two years and the death of Nasino’s daughter Baby River on October 9, 2020,” added Karapatan.

Read: Office of Bayan-Manila raided, 3 activists nabbed
Read: ‘Injustice led to the death of Baby River’ 
Read: Rights group urges release of activists arrested using questionable warrants 

Former political prisoners Dennise Velasco of the #HRDay7 and Cora Agovida, Gabriela’s deputy secretary general, also called for the disqualification of Villavert. The charges filed against them were junked by the courts.

“I am appealing for the immediate disqualification of Judge Villavert from being considered for a higher position in the Court of Appeals or Sandiganbayan. We fear she could cause further damage to the justice system and society as a whole,” Velasco said in his letter to the JBC.

He added that the court declared that the search warrant issued by Villavert has violated his constitutional rights and the rules of court. “Nearly four years later, four of my colleagues from the Human Rights Day 7 remain in jail due to the same search warrant issued by Villavert,” Velasco said.

“She is called the ‘search warrant factory queen’ because of the (questionable) search warrants she issued against 76 human rights workers from 2018 to 2020. Is this not a crime, an abuse of power and authority to use her position as judge?” Agovida asked the JBC in her letter.

Karapatan pointed out that in the case of Agovida and her husband, Michael Bartolome, the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 19 unequivocally said in its decision 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.'”

Meanwhile, Kapatid, a support group of families and friends of political prisoners, said that the Supreme Court upheld the voiding of Villavert’s search warrant against Nasino and two other activists “for failing to precisely specify the location and items to be seized, as mandated by jurisprudence and the Constitution.”

“Clearly, Judge Villavert’s tenure on the bench, particularly her issuance of search warrants that are being overturned for grave violations of constitutional rights, raises serious questions about her suitability for a higher role in the judiciary,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said.

She added that the impact of Villavert’s actions extends beyond the courtroom, “with families torn apart and lives irreparably damaged.”

“Reina Mae Nasino, along with her infant daughter Baby River, is a poignant symbol of the injustices stemming from those poisonous warrants,” Lim said.

“Many others like my husband Vic Ladlad, Alberto and Virginia Villamor, Renante Gamara and the four remaining HR Day 7 activists Romina Astudillo, Mark Ryan Cruz, Joel Demate, and Jaymie Gregorio continue to suffer in jail due to these spurious warrants that one judge described as the ‘fruits of a poisoned tree,’” said Lim.

Read: Justice grinds slow for 4 of the #HRDay7 still in prison

Karapatan said that to date, only seven out of the 76 activists arrested due to warrants issued by Villavert are still undergoing trial.

“Fifty-seven have either had their cases dismissed after the quashal of the Villavert-issued search warrants or were acquitted after trial,” Karapatan said.

Karapatan stressed that those who are still detained due to defective warrants issued by Villavert should be immediately dismissed.

They added that Villavert should be held accountable as she is “equally accountable to the victims along with the abusive authorities who are responsible for having planted pieces of evidence that were made the bases for the continued unjust detention.” (RTS, RVO) (

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