For lack of probable cause, Legazpi court orders release of detained pastor
MANILA, Philippines — A pastor who was detained for alleged gunrunning was ordered released by a court in Legazpi, Albay for lack of probable cause.
In a 10-page order dated August 4 issued by Legazpi Regional Trial Court Branch 10, Presiding Judge Maria Theresa San-Juan Loquillano, the court granted the motion of Pastor Danilo Balucio to quash the application for search warrants by the Philippine National Police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) as these were not based on personally-verified information.
According to Loquillano, the main applicant of the search warrant, Police Maj. Michael John Villaneuva, used the terms “I have been informed,” which suggests that he does not have personal knowledge of the allegations raised against Balucio and the other alleged gunrunner.
“It is most unfortunate for the CIDG NCR that a reading of the application for a search warrant, as well as the transcript of stenographic notes taken during the actual hearing for the issuance of the search warrant, readily reveals that the main applicant (Villanueva) does not have personal knowledge about the matters himself alleged in his application,” Loquillano said in her order.
“This is evident from his use of the phrase ‘I have been informed…’ in paragraph 1 of the application for a search warrant,” she added.
Balucio was arrested on the same day last May 2021 with Anakbayan regional spokesperson Sasah Sta. Rosa, in separate police operations in Albay and Camarines Sur.
The search warrant was based on an informant’s claim that his co-worker, a certain Julius, ordered .45 caliber pistols from Justine Mesias — also a subject of a different search warrant. But when Julius went to Metro Manila, Mesias demanded that the informant be the one to buy the guns instead.
The informant then brought the issue to the CIDG at the National Capital Region (NCR), who then dispatched Pat. Edrick Semilla to the area to check on the claims. Semilla met Mesias and asked for higher-powered guns.
Mesias referred Semilla and the informant to a certain “Kuya Dan” — believed to be Balucio, who is a pastor for the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).
But Loquillano said that there are several problems in the arrest of Balucio, as the police officers were not able to properly identify the names of landmarks near the pastor’s house. Loquillano said Semilla even cannot describe the location of Balucio’s house and the nearby landmarks, saying the labels of the vulcanizing shop and the school were too small for him to remember.
Loquillano also questioned why the informant had to file his complaint with the CIDG in Metro Manila, rather than the Bicol Region CIDG office.
During the preliminary stages of the case, both Villanueva and Semilla admitted to having contracted COVID-19 — implying that they could have not discussed the matter during that time period, and instead deferred the issue to other CIDG personnel.
Also, there is a question of how the informant was able to go to Metro Manila before the arrest happened, given that Metro Manila and its nearby provinces were then under an enhanced community quarantine status due to the COVID-19 surge.
Other detained activists were also released after the court found no evidence or cited the lack of probable cause to support the arrest and search orders issued against them.
Last February, a Mandaluyong City court dropped the illegal firearms charges against a journalist on the grounds that there were inaccuracies and discrepancies in the statements of the arresting police officers.