Illegal firearms charges vs journo dismissed; court says testimonies inaccurate
MANILA, Philippines — The illegal firearms charges against journalist Lady Ann Salem have been dismissed by the Mandaluyong court after finding a variety of inconsistencies and discrepancies in the testimonies of the police officers.
In the 10-page order from the Mandaluyong City Regional Trial Court Branch 209 dated Friday, the court also granted the accused’s motions to quash the search warrant, suppress the evidence, and declare the illegally seized items as inadmissible.
The court said testimonies from the police informant, Patrolman Ernie Ambuyoc, and Criminal Investigation Detection Group (CIDG) National Capital Region Field Unit’s P/Cpt. Michael Nathaniel Visco contained several material inconsistencies enough to raise doubts about the complaints.
Salem, editor of alternative media site Manila Today, and her companion Rodrigo Esparago were both arrested last December 10 which coincided with the International Human Rights Day, for supposedly violating Republic Act No. 10592 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act and R.A. 9516 or the Law on Explosives, after police accused them of being involved in a gun-running syndicate.
“All told, there being numerous inconsistencies and contradictions, the testimonies of the foregoing witnesses cannot be given full faith and credence. And since the sole basis of the issuance of Search Warrants were their sworn statements and testimonies, the Court finds that probable cause was not sufficiently established,” Presiding Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio said.
“There were not enough facts and circumstances ‘which would lead a reasonably direct and prudent man to believe that an offense has been committed and that the objects sought in connection with the offense are in the place sought to be searched’,” Ignacio added.
For example, the court noted discrepancies between Ambuyoc’s sworn affidavit and his testimonies in court regarding who supposedly took pictures of the firearms.
In the sworn affidavit executed last December 3, before the arrest, Ambuyoc said that while being undercover, he saw Salem taking photos of the firearms before eventually encoding them in their laptop.
But in the hearing, the court highlighted that Ambuyoc said it was Esparago who took the pictures, and it was Salem who encoded them.
The court also took note of Ambuyoc’s sworn affidavit, which differed from that of the informant, as the former said that the firearms were placed in a bubble wrap before being packed. However, the civilian informant did not mention that.
Then, Ambuyoc supposedly said in his sworn affidavit that the firearms were placed in a single bag, but the informant said it was placed in three separate bags.
Another discrepancy in the testimonies came from the supposed people inside the condominium unit of Mark Ryan Cruz, another activist arrested during the spate of operations wherein Salem and Esperago were arrested.
The arrested suspects were accused of making firearm deliveries as part of a gun-running syndicate.
According to the informant, he saw a male and a female inside the room, but Ambuyoc said two females were inside the room.
“Finally, considering that Search Warrants Nos. 6044(20) and 6045(20) were issued in violation of the Constitution and Rules of Court, all the items seized in Esperago and Salem’s condominium unit/ premises are inadmissible in evidence, being fruits of the poisonous tree,” Ignacio said.
Aside from Salem and Esperago, five other labor union leaders were arrested in a series of operations launched last December 10, which led various activists to call for the suspects’ release.
Official police reports showed that four .45 caliber pistols, four grenades, four .45 caliber magazines, 29 rounds of .45 caliber ammunition, three assorted laptops, three external hard drives, eight cell phones, five sling bags, one USB drive, and four assorted identification cards were seized from Esparago and Salem’s residence in Mandaluyong.
The Public Interest Law Center (PILC), which is Salem’s counsel for this case, welcomed the dismissal of the case.
“[PILC] hails the Order of Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court Judge Monique A. Quisumbing-Ignacio of Branch 209 dismissing the charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against journalist Lady Ann Salem and labor union organizer Rodrigo Esparago,” PILC said in a statement.
“The decision of Judge Quisumbing-Ignacio echoes issues raised by the defense with regard to material inconsistencies in the application for a search warrant, and protocol and rights violations during the implementation of the issued warrant,” the law center added.
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