Capiz judge orders release of 4 Tumandok tribesmen, quashes warrant from Manila court
ILOILO CITY — A judge in Capiz province ordered the release of four members of an indigenous people’s (IP) group, who had been arrested during a government raid that killed nine of their fellow tribesmen in December 2020.
The release was ordered by Judge Rommel Leonor, of the Regional Trial Court Branch 21 in Mambusao, Capiz, who also quashed the search warrant issued by a court in Manila against members and leaders of the Tumandok tribe.
The search warrants issued by the Manila court were used in the Dec. 30, 2020 operation by police and military against members and leaders of a group of Tumandok tribesmen who had been tagged as communist insurgents.
At least nine Tumandok tribesmen were killed during the operation while four others had been arrested and jailed on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Two of the four had earlier posted bail.
Another motion to quash the warrant for another member of the Tumandok tribe is still pending while the trial of another is ongoing. Eight other tribesmen entered into plea bargains and had been released.
In separate resolutions dated June 15, Leonor declared the search warrants—issued by Judge Jose Lorenzo Dela Rosa of the Manila RTC—as invalid as these failed to “specifically and particularly described the places to be searched” as required by the Constitution.
Leonor, in his resolution, also ordered the suppression of all alleged pieces of evidence obtained in the “illegal search.”
Nine Tumandok tribe leaders in Tapaz town died in the operation while 16 others were arrested in Tapaz and Calinog town.
Police and military officials have alleged that those killed and arrested were leaders or supporters of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army.
Authorities also claimed that those who were killed fired at operatives implementing the search but this was repeatedly denied by family members and several village officials.
This was the third time search warrants issued by Metro Manila RTCs against activists and alleged communist rebels have been voided.
Last Feb. 18, the Bacolod City RTC quashed the search warrant issued by Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert, of the Quezon City RTC Branch 89, used to arrest six leaders and members of progressive organizations in Bacolod City on Oct. 31, 2019.
Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio, of the Mandaluyong RTC Branch 209, in February declared as “null and void” a search warrant also issued by Villavert that was used to arrest Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and labor organizer Rodrigo Esparago.
The two, who were ordered released, were among seven mostly trade union organizers arrested on Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, 2020 in Manila.
Msgr. Meliton Oso, executive director of the Jaro Archdiocese Social Action Center, and spokesperson of the Iloilo Council for Ecumenism, said the Church was ready to help families of those killed if they decide to file criminal charges against those involved in the operation.
“There are lawyers ready to help them and we pray that they will muster courage,” Oso said at a press conference in Iloilo City on Tuesday (July 13).
“But we cannot blame them (if they do not) because understandably, they are afraid,” Oso said.
Berna Castor, secretary general of the Tumanduk alliance, said the indigenous people’s group welcomes the court ruling and the release of its leaders.
“But we cannot bring back the lives of nine who were killed. Many of us are still afraid that what happened to them will also happen to us,” she said in a phone interview.