Blow to Red-tagging drive: Court frees journalist, union organizer
MANILA, Philippines — A Mandaluyong City court on Friday dismissed the charges filed against a journalist and union organizer accused of illegal possession of firearms and explosives in a legal blow against a crackdown on activists accused of links to communist rebels.
Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio of Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court Branch 209 junked the charges against Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and labor organizer Rodrigo Esparago.
Ignacio said the evidence against Salem and Esparago were inadmissible and declared “null and void’’ the search warrant used by law enforcers to enter Salem’s condominium unit in Mandaluyong where firearms and explosives were allegedly found.
Quoting the court’s decision, the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) said Ignacio cited lack of probable cause in nullifying the search warrant that had been issued by Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 89.
‘Human Rights Day 7’
Salem and Esparago were among the seven people collectively called the “Human Rights Day 7” who were arrested on Dec. 10, 2020, International Human Rights Day, in a string of police operations in Metro Manila based on warrants issued by Villavert.
The police also arrested another labor activist, Dennise Velasco, in Greater Lagro; Mark Ryan Cruz, Romina Raiselle Astudillo and Jaymie Gregorio in Quezon City; and Joel Demate in Santa Ana, Manila.
The firearms and explosives allegedly recovered from the condominium could not be used as evidence due to the invalid search warrant, according to the lawyers for Salem and Esparago, who lauded the dismissal of the charges.
Also ruled inadmissible as evidence were a laptop, an external hard drive and several USB drives.
Ignacio also found the informants’ testimonies against the pair contradictory.
Salem and Esparago are expected to be released soon.
In January, Salem, through the PILC, moved to quash the search warrant, suppress the evidence and declare the seized items inadmissible, citing the “preposterous circumstances and basis” for the issuance of the search warrant.
‘Faulty police work’
Salem also serves as communication officer of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television, one of the founding members of Altermidya.
She is a member of Tudla Productions and former officer of the Metro Manila chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
In a statement, the PILC said the dismissal of the charges “clearly demolishes the Duterte government’s vilification and Red-tagging campaign” against Salem and the others.
“It is a severe blow to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac), which claimed the arrests as a victory in the anti-insurgency campaign. The first blow was their failure to assert this in court …,” they said.
“The nail in the coffin is the dismissal of the cases, exposing not just faulty police work but vicious political persecution.”
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