Karapatan blocks ‘search warrant factory’ judge’s bid for CA post

Human rights alliance Karapatan protested the inclusion of Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert in the short list of candidates being considered for promotion to the posts of Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals and Associate Justice of the Sandiganbayan.

In a letter to the Judicial and Bar Council dated May 22, 2024, Karapatan urged the JBC to immediately disqualify Judge Villavert from the positions she is applying for.

“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,” said Karapatan.

Judge Villavert earned notoriety as a so-called “search warrant factory” for issuing numerous questionable search warrants that led to the arrest and filing of trumped-up charges against 76 activists between 2018 and 2020.

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.

The quashal of the search warrant used against Nasino and her companions was affirmed all the way to the Supreme Court. In the said resolution, the Court emphasized that “the existence of probable cause in the application for search warrant is doubtful. Perusal of the records revealed the disparity of the addresses in the documentary evidence presented.”

Like that of Nasino, many of the cases arising from these search warrants have since been dismissed on their merits. To date, only seven out of the 76 activists arrested due to warrants issued by Judge 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.

According to Karapatan, “it is also significant to note, that in the case of activist couple Michael Bartolome and Cora Agovida, 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.’”

Karapatan moreover cited parts of the decision of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 220 on the case of Denisse Velasco, stating “Regrettably, even the examination conducted by the issuing judge on the applicant and the witnesses fell short of the required probing and exhaustive inquiry for the determination of probable cause. It did not even occur to the examining judge to clarify with the police officers how they conducted the surveillance confirmatory operations against Rodrigo Esparago’s group on November 7, 2020.”

Karapatan also decried the human cost of Judge Villavert’s capricious issuance of search warrants, citing the cases of Vicente Ladlad, 75 and Virginia Villamor, 73. Ladlad developed tuberculosis while in detention while Villamor, who had not yet completely recovered from a bone injury when arrested, still finds it difficult to walk without assistance. Both have had to be hospitalized a number of times during their detention.

Karapatan stressed that the cases filed against all those subject of the defective search warrants issued by Judge Villavert who are still in detention should be immediately dismissed. The human rights group also called for accountability as Judge Villavert “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.” #