Activist groups elated with dismissal of illegal firearms charges against journo
MANILA, Philippines — Several progressive organizations rejoiced over the Mandaluyong court’s dismissal of illegal firearms charges against journalist Lady Ann Salem, saying that it is a victory against attacks on human rights workers and other activists.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said on Friday they also hope that the Mandaluyong City Regional Trial Court’s actions — dismissing the complaints and declaring the evidence allegedly seized from Salem and Rodrigo Esparago inadmissible — would pave the way for the release of other activists detained.
Salem, editor of alternative media site Manila Today, and Esparago were among the seven individuals arrested last December 10 — International Human Rights Day — for allegedly being involved in a gun-running syndicate.
“We highly welcome the decision of the Mandaluyong RTC. Dapat ma-dismiss na din ang cases filed against the five (5) others who were also arrested separately on December 10 Human Rights Day 2020,” Zarate said in a statement.
“This is a clear legal victory against the dirty war being waged by the government, especially the NTF-ELCAC, against members of progressive organizations, independent media and critics of the government,” Zarate added.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) meanwhile said that it is a surprising development, but one that they welcome.
“It was a most pleasant yet well-deserved surprise that the false raps against journalist Lady Ann Salem and labor organizer Rodrigo Esparago were tossed out by the trial court,” NUPL president Edre Olalia.
“We pat on the back our colleagues and co-NUPL members from the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) who proved once more that adroit marshalling of facts, evidence, and law to establish the truth with passion, competence and commitment can turn things around despite all the odds,” he added.
Earlier, it was revealed that Branch 209 Presiding Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio dismissed the complaints and quashed the warrants based on conflicting and contradicting statements from the police officers who were undercover and the informant who testified for the arresting officers.
The court said testimonies the alleged 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.
“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,” 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’,” she added.
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.
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