Karapatan questions QC judge’s role in weaponizing the law to target activists

Human rights group Karapatan, along with various people’s organizations, trooped to the Quezon City Hall of Justice on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 to question and denounce the acts of an executive judge who issued the patently baseless search warrants that led to the raids of offices of progressive groups and the arbitrary arrest of dozens of activists. The search warrants led to the filing of trumped-up charges on the basis of planted evidence, covering offices of people's organizations in Negros and Manila. Profile of victims and groups highlight a series of red-tagging prior to the raids, followed by intensified malicious campaigns and threats.

“Cloaked in seemingly lawful processes, we are seeing a blatant subversion and weaponization of the law. Planting of evidence, political persecution of activists, filing of trumped-up charges, and continuing judicial harassment have been plaguing legal advocacy groups in the country. This crackdown is alongside ths government's bid to discredit and silence critics," said Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor.

Clamor noted that Quezon City Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Cecilyn E. Burgos-Villavert had a crucial role in initiating this spate of raids and judicial harassment. According to Clamor, all the search warrants used to justify the raid of  offices of progressive groups did not indicate any exact location, which renders offices more vulnerable to the planting of evidence. This is also an indication that the warrants were issued on the mere say-so of the police without any further investigation, and were observably a cut and paste version of one another.

"They are in a hurry to jail activists, and those in the judiciary who have no problem perpetrating injustices are being used to make it appear that the arrests are legal. We assert that the evidence "found" during the searches were planted. We raise these questionable points and reiterate that all these are occuring at the backdrop of a repressive and vindictive militarist government who have long expressed its ire against critics and activists," Clamor commented.

The Karapatan official noted that aside from the October 31 raids in Negros and the November 5 raid in Metro Manila, more offices of progressive groups remain at risk: "Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert is notorious for issuing the same patently baseless search warrants, which then opens the opportunity for the police to plant evidence. Aside from the search warrants targeting organizations in Negros and Manila, the same judge also issued the search warrants that enabled the arbitrary arrest and planting of evidence against Vicente Ladlad and the Villamor couple, Esterlita Suaybaguio, and against couple Winona and Alex Birondo. We call out Judge Burgos-Villavert for using her position to dispense injustice. With this trend, we do not discount the possibility of more raids, courtesy of the same judge," he cautioned.

Last October 31, at least 57 individuals, including minors, were illegally arrested as State forces simultaneously raided the offices of Bayan, Bayan Muna, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Karapatan, Gabriela, the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), and the Negros Island Health Integrated Program, along with the residence of local leaders in Bacolod City and Manila. Meanwhile, at 1 am on Tuesday, November 5, at least 3 activists were arbitrarily arrested as uniformed men served a search warrant at the Bayan - Metro Manila office in Tondo, Manila.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay mentioned that on the same day of the issuance of the search warrants in Negros and Manila, Burgos-Villavert reportedly had a dialogue with Philippine National Police – National Capital Region Acting Director Police Brigadier General Debold Sinas at the Quezon City Hall of Justice.

“While we call out the likes of Judge Burgos-Villavert, we urge for independence and integrity in the judiciary. We should all be reminded that the freedom of association, the right to organize and the right to petition the government for redress are all enshrined in the Constitution. Mixing in the Marcos martial law formula of using red scare tactics to justify the crackdown on activists is a mere buff to hide their real objective - - political persecution," Palabay added.

“We echo the call of our colleagues in the legal profession for the release of the special docket book which contains the details of the applications and the results of the searches and seizures made pursuant to the issued warrants. We also call for the Commission on Human Rights to inspect offices of all red-tagged groups, as a means to pre-empt any plans of State operatives to plant evidence and arbitrarily arrest activists. There are new and emerging forms of repression, but hiding it in layers of legality still fails to mask its most sinister agenda," she said.

Meanwhile, Clamor also raised the recent killing of another judge on November 5, 2019. Judge Mario Anacleto Bañez of Tagudin Regional Trial Court Branch 25 was ambushed by unidentified assailants in San Fernando, La Union, resulting to his death. On September 4 this year, he acquitted community health worker and then-political prisoner Rachel Mariano of the trumped-up murder and frustrated murder charges filed by the military against her.

"Those that they cannot co-opt, they kill. The cold-blooded murder of Judge Mario Anacleto Bañez comes after Major General Antonio Parlade Jr. urged the Supreme Court to "investigate" judges who dismissed cases filed by state forces against activists. This—along with the recent raids and mass arrests of activists and the blatant twisting of legal processes—only means we can only look at this horrible murder as an act of reprisal for Judge Mario Anacleto Bañez's decision in standing up for truth and justice against the military's blatant lies. While a judge like Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert is being coddled by fascists to harass activists, upright an principled judges like Judge Bañez are extrajudicially killed.This is meant to effect an atmosphere of terror among the judiciary," Clamor expressed.

“We urge our courts to side with the oppressed and those who are fighting for their rights. We urge them to look at the abuses of government institutions and officials who continuously weaponize the law to persecute political critics. In the end, we do not have the resources that the government has that they use to bribe, reward, and even threaten judges to comply with their plans, but there are those in the legal profession who remain principled. With the abhorrent policies of this government such as the Martial Law in Mindanao, Memorandum Order No. 32, the Executive Order No. 70, and the Implan Kalasag in NCR, we raise the possibility of more raids and arbitrary arrests. Courageous lawyers that money cannot buy are called to task. Now more than ever, our widespread and strongest condemnation must be heard and amplified. Dictatorship has inched closer with this recent crackdown, but as all dictatorships go, the power of the people always prevails,” Palabay concluded.