Karapatan welcomes dismissal of trumped-up charges vs Bicol UCCP Pastor Dan Balucio

Photo from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines

Photo from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines

As United Church of Christ in the Philippines Pastor Dan Balucio was released from the Albay Provincial Jail last Friday, August 13, 2021, human rights alliance Karapatan welcomed the decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 10 in Legazpi City, Albay by Judge Maria Theresa San Juan-Loquillano granting Balucio’s motion to quash and to suppress alleged evidence, dismissing the trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against him.

“The Albay court’s decision follows similar decisions by courts in Mandaluyong City, Batangas, Laguna, Bacolod City and Capiz, essentially questioning the issuances of search warrants of other courts and upholding the basic right to due process of the activists arrested in these communities. The pattern of the police’s use of search warrants, planting evidence and effecting the arbitrary arrests and detention of individuals like Pastor Dan Balucio is a glaring form of weaponization of the judiciary against activists and dissenters,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

The judge cited numerous questions, inconsistencies, incredible allegations and the police-applicants’ lack of personal knowledge on the existence, material allegations and proof of Balucio’s supposed crime. The search warrant used against Balucio was issued by Legazpi City RTC Vice Executive Judge Edgar Armes on May 1. Balucio’s house was raided and he was subsequently arrested at dawn of May 2.

The same judge also issued the search warrant against 20-year-old youth activist Maria Jesusa “Sasah” Sta. Rosa, spokesperson of Jovenes Anakbayan, who was arrested in Camarines Sur at around the same time Balucio was accosted, and Bicol University student leader and Youth Act Now Against Tyranny – Bicol spokesperson Justine Mesias, who was not present when the police raided his family’s residence in Daraga, Albay. Sta. Rosa remains detained at a detention facility in Naga City as of writing.

Palabay noted that these arrests have been trumpeted by police and military officials as their victories either against criminality or terrorist activities. “Police and military officials who filed these complaints, conducted and ordered these operations resulting in the violation of the human rights defenders’ rights against arbitrary or illegal arrests and detention, their rights to due process and privacy within their homes or offices should be held accountable. They pat each others’ backs when they do these patently capricious and illegal acts, but individuals, their families and communities of those affected suffer,” she further stated.

Karapatan called on the Supreme Court “to take steps to investigate members of the judiciary who have been involved in the issuances of such questionable search warrants, including Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert and Manila Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Jose Lorenzo dela Rosa.”

Burgos-Villavert issued search warrants for offices and homes of activists resulting in their arrests and detention in the October 2019 police raids in Bacolod City and Manila including urban poor activist Reina Mae Nasino, and the seven human rights defenders in Metro Manila on December 10, 2020. Dela Rosa and other Manila RTC executive judges issued the search warrants used in the Bloody Sunday incidents on March 7, 2021.

“The Philippine National Police should also show that its erring personnel, many of them are from the notorious Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, should be investigated and held to account,” Palabay said.