Group to Judicial Council: Remember Baby River

Human rights activists protesting the nomination of the two controversial judges applying for higher positions in the judiciary. (Photo by N. Bacarra/Kodao)

Judges Villavert and Zapanta ‘legally and morally unfit’

By RAYMUND B. VILLANUEVA
Kodao Productions /Bulatlat.com

Political prisoner support group Kapatid asked the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to remember the death of infant River Nasino in its deliberations for the application of controversial judges vying for higher positions in the judiciary.

In a letter to the JBC, Kapatid pressed for the disqualification of Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert and Manila RTC Judge Jason Zapanta for “legal and moral unfitness” because of their “fundamental violations of justice, fairness, and respect for human rights that form the bedrock of our legal system and moral law.”

Kapatid cited the search warrant Villavert issued for the arrest of then 23-year old Reina Mae Nasino with fellow activists Ram Carlo Bautista and Alma Moran on the night of November 5, 2019 at Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)-Manila’s office in Tondo.

Nasino, who was then several months pregnant, gave birth in prison Kapatid said were “conditions far from humane” for both her and her baby daughter.

“Six weeks after giving birth, jail authorities forcibly separated Reina Mae and Baby River, weaning the infant off breastfeeding at the time when she most needed the natural immunity and sustenance that only her mother could provide,” Kapatid said in its protest letter.

The infant was born with low birth weight due to her mother’s lack of prenatal care and poor nutrition while in detention, the group said.

Baby River failed to thrive, contracted a life-threatening pulmonary disease, and passed away soon after.

Reina Mae’s visit at her daughter’s wake was significantly cut short by her prison guards despite a Court order allowing her several hours to grieve.

The infant’s internment at the Manila North Cemetery also went viral online and gathered international condemnation after prison authorities ran away with her remains and left her grieving family to run after the funeral convoy.

“Reina Mae Nasino’s heartbreaking tragedy highlights the profound human cost of Judge Burgos-Villavert’s judicial decisions that disregard the fundamental rights and dignity of individuals. Her inexcusable actions have resulted in unnecessary suffering and the loss of an innocent life, reflecting her moral unfitness to be a Justice of the Court of Appeals,” Kapatid said.

Nasino, Bautista and Moran were later on freed after the Supreme Court found Villavert’s non-compliance with specificity requirement on the failure of the issuing court to thoroughly examine the applicant and his witnesses by propounding “probing and exhaustive” questions.

Judicial massacre

Kapatid said Villavert should not be appointed to any higher position in the judiciary, saying “[her] tenure as Quezon City Executive Judge was nothing short of a judicial massacre, where the halls of justice were transformed into a grotesque theater of state-sanctioned oppression.”

The group said that under the judge’s watch, the courtroom became a ‘warrant factory,’ churning out judicial warrants like assembly line products, each one a weapon that grievously disrupted the lives of at least 76 persons. Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said in her letter.

“Reina Mae Nasino’s heartbreaking tragedy highlights the profound human cost of Judge Burgos-Villavert’s judicial decisions that disregard the fundamental rights and dignity of individuals. Her inexcusable actions have resulted in unnecessary suffering and the loss of an innocent life, reflecting her moral unfitness to be a Justice of the Court of Appeals,” said Kapatid.

“The consequences of Villavert’s actions continue to reverberate through the lives of her victims,” Lim added, citing the case of her husband, 75-year old peace consultant Vicente Ladlad, and his companions Alberto Villamor, 67, and Virginia Villamor, 69.

“Vic, Al and Bebot continue to be deprived of liberty for over five years now. They are getting older and sicker by the day as a result of her search warrant that became the basis for planting a trove of firearms and explosives, a non-bailable offense to keep them in indefinite detention,” said Lim.

She noted that the JBC cannot ignore in its decision-making that various courts including the Supreme Court have already vindicated 69 of Villavert’s 76 victims when they invalidated her warrants for glaring factual and legal infirmities.

Villavert’s warrant was also used in the arrest of 57 activists, workers and a journalist in Bacolod City on October 31, 2019.

Her orders were issued after a so-called dialogue with then National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Acting Director Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas in her chambers hours before composite police and military teams conducted their raids in Bacolod.

“[W]e appeal to this Honorable Council [JBC] to reconsider the nomination and appointment of Judge Cecilia Burgos-Villavert to any higher position within the judiciary. Her track record reflects a pattern of decisions that undermine the very principles of justice, fairness, and respect for human rights, which form the bedrock of our legal system and moral law.

On Wednesday, June 5, various groups held a protest rally at the Supreme Court in Manila in time for Villavert’s interview by the JBC regarding her application.

Aside from Villavert, the activists are also asking the JBC to reject Manila RTC Judge Jason Zapanta.

Another controversial applicant

Kapatid said that Zapanta issued the search warrant used by the police to arrest Bayan-Batangas leader Erlindo “Lino” Baez for alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

The charge is the standard offense activists are accused of by the police and the military.

Tanauan Batangas RTC however voided Zapanta’s warrant and ordered Baez’s release, noting that a search warrant must always comply with constitutional requirements.

“The Judicial and Bar Council has the solemn duty to ensure that only those with the highest standards of integrity, competence, and commitment to justice are elevated within the judiciary. Appointing Judge Burgos-Villavert and Judge Zapanta to a higher judicial position would not only perpetuate a grave miscarriage of justice but also erode public trust in our judicial institutions,” said Kapatid.

“We implore the Judicial and Bar Council to give due consideration to the serious concerns we have raised and to act in the best interest of justice and the rule of law,” Kapatid said. Reposted by (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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