Peace consultants, staff cleared of illegal firearms and explosive charges
MANILA, Philippines–Two separate courts have dismissed the illegal possession of firearms and explosive cases filed against a National Democratic Front (NDF) peace consultant and peace talk staff citing errors and irregularities in the police operation.
In separate orders, the Regional Trial Courts of Quezon City Branch 77 and Marikina Branch 193 granted the demurrer to evidence filed by the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) on behalf of peace consultant Renante Gamara and peace talks staff Alexander and Winona Birondo.
A demurrer to evidence is a motion to dismiss on the ground of insufficiency of evidence where a defendant cites that the evidence produced by the prosecution is insufficient to make out a case, whether true or not. Once granted, the case will be dismissed, and it is tantamount to an acquittal. If denied, the trial will continue with the presentation of evidence by the accused.
The Birondos and Gamara were arrested and detained after then-President Rodrigo Duterte terminated the peace talks. Then, the police secured separate search warrants from Quezon City RTC Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert.
A witness that is nothing more but a ‘will-o’-the wisp’
In the case of the Birondos, authorities were able to seize one serviceable MK2 fragmentation hand grenade, a .45 caliber STI pistol with several ammunitions, during a search conducted on July 23, 2019.
However, the search warrant was eventually quashed or invalidated, making all the evidence recovered as inadmissible.
“As it stands, without the seized items, the prosecution is simply left with no case,” the Quezon City Court said.
Even assuming that the pieces of evidence are admissible, the court said none of the witnesses presented by the prosecution could prove that the Birondos are the owners of the firearms, ammunition, and explosives, given that they were already in detention even before the search was conducted.
The only eyewitness, a certain garbage collector Bryan Reyes, who was presented during the application of the search warrant, was not presented during the trial of the criminal case.
“This witness was not presented despite the opportunity given to the State to do so. This person appears to have just suddenly disappeared after giving his testimony before the Honorable Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert,” the court said.
The court noted that even the court could not locate Reyes because he was not a resident of the address indicated in the application of the search warrant.
“His disappearance was as sudden as his initial appearance…It is as if he is nothing more but a will-o’-the wisp disappearing over bogs and marshes,” the court said.
‘Saddest narration of all’
The court also took note of the inconsistencies in testimonies of other witnesses as well as the failure to present the actual video of the implementation of the search warrant. A policewoman was tasked to take video footage of the actual search of the house of the Birondos.
However, she was not given the gadget to be able to do her task; according to her testimony, she borrowed a mobile phone from another police officer to be able to take the video.
While the police officer testified that she was able to take the video of the actual search, “she could not, for the life of her, produce the said video of the search, she could not, for the life of her, produce the said video recording nor even the cell phone used.”
Information from tricycle drivers
Like the Birondos, Gamara was already in detention when the search was conducted at his supposed house in March 2019.
During the search, authorities seized one caliber 9 mm, live ammunition, and two fragmentation grenades.
The prosecution argued that Gamara remains in constructive possession of the firearms, given that they were seized from his house.
“The police officers inferred this train of thought after they conducted a discreet investigation and out from the tricycle drivers that accused Gamara is residing therein,” the court said.
But the court said, “constructive possession exists when the thing is under the dominion and control of a person or when he has the right to exercise dominion and control over the place where it is found.”
In the case of Gamara, the court said no proof was presented that Gamara was either the occupant or the owner of the house where the firearms, ammunitions, and grenades were found.
“Mere speculations and probabilities cannot substitute for proof required to establish the guilt of an accused beyond a reasonable doubt,” the Marikina court said.
The court added that police officers that seized the firearms also failed to execute a chain of custody form.
“Nowhere in the record shows that such document exists,” the court said.
Both courts ordered the immediate release of the Birondos and Gamara unless they are being held for another offense.
“None of the cases against peace consultants for allegedly possessing unlicensed firearms and explosives have prospered so far, showing clearly and steadily how persecuting them has been a waste of time and public funds,” PILC said in a statement.
PILC added that they are confident that the other cases pending against peace consultants, staff, and personnel “will be eventually proven false and malicious as well.”
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