Dismissal of charges vs arrested unionist proves warrants issued by Villavert are based on outright lies

Photo from Kapatid - Metro Manila

Human rights alliance Karapatan welcomed the dismissal of the charges against trade unionist Dennise Velasco who was arrested during the simultaneous police operations in Metro Manila on December 10, 2020, along with six others, collectively known as the “Human Rights Day 7.” Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert issued all the search warrants that led to their arbitrary arrests.

Among those arrested were Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and unionist Rodrigo Esparago, whose cases were already dismissed by a Mandaluyong Court on February 5, 2021.

“The dismissal of the charges against Dennise Velasco only proves that the charges against him and other activists arrested because of the search warrants issued by Judge Villavert are based on concocted lies such as fabricated testimonies of so-called ‘witnesses’ and ‘confidential informants,’” Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor stated.

In an order dated March 2, 2022, Judge Jose Paneda of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 220 granted the omnibus motion filed by Velasco to quash the search warrant, to suppress the evidence supposedly seized during the raid in his house in Quezon City, and to dismiss the trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against him. He was last night, March 8, 2022.

The order averred that the examination conducted by Judge Villavert on applicant Police Captain Michael Nathaniel Visco and his supposed witnesses “fell short of the required probing and exhaustive inquiry for the determination of the existence of firearms and explosives.”

Furthermore, the order also asserted that Police Captain Visco and his witnesses “did not have personal knowledge of the accused’s lack of license to possess firearms, ammunitions and explosives” such that “the evidence presented before the court are insufficient to prove the existence of a probable cause,” hence voiding the search warrant issued by Judge Villavert.

Other search warrants issued by Judge Villavert which were already quashed by various courts were the search warrant issued against Alexander and Winona Birondo, former staff members of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace negotiations panel and the search warrant issued against National Federation of Sugar Workers Secretary General John Milton Lozande.

Meanwhile, NDFP peace consultant Esterlita Suaybaguio, women’s rights activist Cora Agovida and urban poor organizer Michael Bartolome were all acquitted by the courts of Quezon City and Manila, respectively, for the prosecution’s failure to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The three were also arrested on the basis of search warrants similarly issued by Judge Villavert.

“This string of dismissals shows Judge Villavert’s notorious and baseless issuances of search warrants. She has clearly turned her court into a factory of bogus search warrants which has led to the illegal arrest of at least 76 activists, human rights defenders, peace advocates, peasant leaders, and journalists,” Clamor said.

The Karapatan official continued: “Judge Villavert is a complicit, shameless, and willing instrument of the Duterte government’s weaponization of judicial processes for its bloody crackdown on dissent acting in cahoots with the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the police, and the military.”

“The Supreme Court must investigate and hold Judge Villavert accountable for her mockery of justice by using our courts for judicial harassment and political persecution, along with other judges who have also issued questionable search warrants that led to the killings and arrests of many human rights defenders and activists such as the case of Bloody Sunday victims,” he asserted.

“As we laud Judge Paneda in dismissing the trumped-up charges against Dennise Velasco, we call on the immediate dismissal of the fabricated charges filed against the remaining jailed activists also arrested during the Human Rights Day raids, as well as all those arrested because of Judge Villavert’s bogus search warrants,” Clamor ended.