‘Deliberate falsehood’: Court frees Red-tagged store owner
A Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge has ordered the release of a Red-tagged “sari-sari” store owner whose house was raided last year by police who submitted inadmissible evidence and used “deliberate falsehood” in applying for a search warrant.
In a 10-page amended order signed on May 6 and released to the media only on May 19, Judge Wilhelmina Go Santiago of RTC Branch 14 in Nasugbu, Batangas, approved Lamberto Asinas’ motion to quash the search warrant and to exclude illegally seized evidence.
Police had described Asinas as a ranking intelligence officer of the communist New People’s Army, but the judge ruled that the raiders had no personal knowledge of him before securing the warrant.
Asinas was arrested on April 16, 2020, after police claimed to have seized firearms in his home on the strength of a search warrant issued by Sta. Cruz Branch 27 Judge Cynthia Ricablanca.
He was freed on May 6 and is now back home in Sitio Alas-as, Barangay Bunducan, Nasugbu, according to his lawyer, Kristina Conti of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC).
But Asinas is “very scared” and his family “traumatized” by his experience, Conti said in a phone interview on Thursday. She said even Asinas’ neighbors were afraid that the police raiders who had swarmed their community would return.
Judge Santiago found major inconsistencies and even “deliberate falsehood” in the police’s warrant application and their testimonies, and ruled that the warrant itself as well as the evidence, was inadmissible.
An examination of the deposition of Police Senior Master Sergeant Mediavillo Alcantara, who had applied for the warrant, showed that he “apparently has no personal knowledge of the facts upon which the application is based.”
Moreover, police witness Jojo Castillo—whose testimony was used to establish probable cause for the issuance of the warrant and who claimed to have seen Asinas bringing firearms into his house—was revealed not to be a resident of Sitio Alas-as.
“Without this crucial fact, that Castillo lives near the house of Asinas, the whole case of the applicant for the issuance of the search warrant would have no factual basis to stand on,” Santiago said.
Citing jurisprudence, Santiago also noted that Ricablanca should have made a “probing and exhaustive, not merely routine or pro forma, examination of the applicant and the witnesses…”
“If a deliberate falsehood on matters that are essential or necessary to a showing of probable cause is committed, a trial judge’s finding of probable cause may be set aside,” Santiago said.
“Therefore,” she added, “this court is compelled to quash Search Warrant No. 20-3368.”
No solid basis
In a statement, the PILC said Santiago’s ruling proved that the police and military “had no solid, intelligent basis before launching massive operations.”
It said that despite Asinas’ vindication and legal victory, he is still facing grave risks especially after the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict “gloated” over his arrest.
“Red-tagged individuals have little or no recourse even after charges are dismissed,” said the PILC’s Rachel Pastores. “The military and police are not compelled, nor have they volunteered, to retract their malicious statements and, in most cases, have refused to acknowledge the errors in their ways.”
Conti said she had yet to confer with Asinas on whether they would file countercharges against the police officers involved in the raid.
She praised the courage of Asinas’ neighbors, saying: “They are willing to stand up for him. They even traveled to [serve as] witnesses. They are also afraid, but they are determined.”
It was the residents of the area who declared in a joint affidavit that there was no Jojo Castillo, the police witness, living in the neighborhood.
‘Planted evidence’ Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the human rights group Karapatan, issued a statement urging the Supreme Court to take cognizance of the successive court decisions that were “based on planted evidence and inconsistent/perjured testimonies to justify the arrests” of rights defenders and activists.
Palabay called on the high court to “review the roster of cases brought to its attention by various victims and organizations raising concern on similar human rights issues … to effect the release of individuals subjected to similar violations and to hold accountable all those involved and engaged in such practices.”