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Another court voids search warrants, this time against 2 peace talks staff

/ 07:09 PM August 19, 2021
Another court voids search warrants, this time against 2 peace talks staff

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MANILA, Philippines—Due to the “incredulity” of a witness’s testimony, a Quezon City Court has quashed a search warrant issued by Quezon City Regional Court Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert against two peace talks staff Alexander and Winona Birondo.

Branch 77 Presiding Judge Ferdinand Baylon, in an order dated Aug. 13, 2021, said the search warrants issued by Burgos-Villavert were void for lack of probable cause.

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“The questions left unanswered and the inconsistencies not clarified belies the existence of probable cause which justify the issuance of the search warrants. For this reason, the warrants should be quashed,” Baylon said.

His order declared all evidence obtained as a result of the police’s search to be inadmissible.

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Prior to the peace talks with the Duterte administration, the Birondos were arrested in 2015 and released in 2016. In 2018, the cases against them were dismissed. However, on July 23, 2019, they were arrested for allegedly preventing the arrest of a wanted person.

After that, the police charged the two with illegal possession of firearms and grenades. The police applied for a search warrant following a witness’ claim that the two were in possession of firearms and a grenade.

In his affidavit, the witness claimed he saw a grenade, but in his testimony, he said he only saw firearms.

“This puzzling dissonance in the witness’ sworn statement could have been clarified during the hearing for the application of the search warrant but unfortunately, such was not touched upon during his testimony,” Baylon said.

“The testimony that he saw a grenade appears to have been spoon-fed to him when he was reminded of what he stated in his sworn statement. The witness appears to have been led to state that he saw a grenade, together with the firearm. He was only made to affirm what he stated.

“He could also have been asked how he knew that what he saw was a grenade, and thereafter made to describe the same if only to test his credibility,” Baylon further said.

On the search warrants regarding the firearms, he said there is nothing in the testimony of the witnesses that specifically indicates that the two are the owners of the firearms. The witness never claimed he saw anyone in the case in possession of a firearm and ammunition, he added.

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In addition, Baylon raised questions regarding the identity of the witness who started collecting garbage simultaneously with the search warrants being served, how he came to begin collecting garbage in the Birondo’s room, and how he was asked by the police to testify.

“His history and identity were not sufficiently established. In his sworn statement, he identified himself as a maintenance/janitor or Archway Apartment. However, during his testimony in court, he stated he was a garbage collector paid by the tenants to collect their garbage and was in fact not an employee of the said apartment complex.

“According to him, he was just referred by friends who live in the units. However, these friends were not identified,” Baylon further said.

The Public Interest Law Center (PILC), in a statement, said they are “well acquainted with the use of false witnesses and contrived testimonies by the police in obtaining search warrants against targets of state persecution, particularly our clients who have been part of the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.”

A judge in Mandaluyong City RTC Branch 209 has also voided the search warrant issued by Burgos-Villavert that served as the basis for the arrest and charge of Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago in December 2019.

After that, the Bacolod City RTC Branch 42 Judge Ana Celeste Bernad quashes another search warrant issued by Burgos-Villavert which the police used to apprehend six Kilusang Mayo Uno activists in 2019. Burgos-Villavert issued search warrants last year that led to the arrest of 60 people in Negros and Manila, including Reina Mae Nasino, who gave birth at the Manila City Jail and lost her baby in custody.

Various groups have criticized what they called “weaponized search warrants” prompting the Supreme Court to issue guidelines on the issuance and implementation of search warrants.

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TAGS: Alexander Birondo, Cecilyn Burgos Villavert, Judge Ferdinand Baylon, Peace Talks, quash, Search Warrant, Winona Birondo
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