In a three-page decision released on September 6, the Court of Appeals (CA) Twelfth Division denied the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG)’s appeal to reverse their decision promulgated last January 27 which affirmed the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court (RTC) ruling to quash the search warrants issued against Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and labor organizer Rodrigo Esparago.

The CA further noted that there is no compelling reason for the OSG’s appeal based on utter lack of merit, adding that it would be a useless formality for the court which involved merely a reiteration of the reasons that have already been decided for finality.

“The Motion for Reconsideration fails to present any new and substantial matter, or any cogent and compelling reason which would justify reconsideration of this Court’s ruling,” said CA in the decision.

The appellate court reiterated the errors pointed out by the Mandaluyong court with regard to the validity of search warrants such as that the firearms and explosives during the warrant application came from the personal and up-close knowledge of an undercover police officer.

According to CA, the act of the searching officers in taking all the laptops and cellphones that they could get during the search is precisely the danger sought to be prevented by the constitutional requirement that the things to be seized must be particularly described so that law enforcement officers will not have unbridled discretion as to what articles they shall seize.

This statement has only reiterated the CA’s decision in January 2021, which says that the law enforcement operation “is a violation of the fundamental right of the private respondents against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Salem and Esparago are among the arrested via raid crackdown last December 10, 2020, including Romina Astudillo, Mark Ryan Cruz, Jaymie Gregorio Jr., Joel Demate, and Denise Velaszo for firearms and explosive raps following a search warrant issued by Quezon City judge Cecilyn Burgos Villavert. They were dubbed as Human Rights Day 7.

On one hand, Salem and Esparago were released in March 2021 after the Mandaluyong court dismissed the case citing material inconsistencies and a ‘fishing expedition to seize and confiscate’ during the law enforcement operation. Velasco on the other hand was released in March 2022

Last February 14, Salem’s legal counsel Public Interest Law Center said in its statement that this case is a classic example of colored political context that these political prisoners lost time, opportunities, and peace of mind given these charges that turned out to be founded on deceit.

“Salem was a member of the alternative press tagged for being a critic of government – but has also paved the way for the judiciary to showcase its fairness and independence,” PILC added.

However, aside from OSG, the government through the National Task Force to End Local Communist and Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) alongside SMNI has been persistent on the continuing red-tagging efforts against Salem and Esparago following its program Laban Kasama ang Bayan” aired on Tuesday, August 1.

In the program, Lorraine Badoy, Jeffrey Celis, Franco Baranda, Yna Mortel, and NTF-ELCAC legal counsel James Santos maliciously tagged Salem and Esparago as urban operatives of the Communist Party of the Philippines – New Peoples’ Army (CPP-NPA) of which the Philippine government affiliates as “terrorist organizations”.

Given these accusations, the SMNI hosts highlighted the use of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) that can be used against freed political prisoners like Salem and Esparago.

Manila Today lambasted the rampant red-tagging and dangers of ATA seen not only as a grave violation of human rights but further poses a severe threat to the safety and well-being of journalists and activists alike.

“While this is not the first time that personalities on the show have tried to link people and groups to the ongoing armed struggle in the Philippines, we further emphasize the Manila RTC ruling through Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar affirming that CPP-NPA are not terrorist organisations but are waging a revolutionary war for more than five decades,” Manila Today said in a statement.

“We call on the Marcos Jr. administration to address rampant human rights violations committed in the first year of his term. […] That journalists like Salem must not be vilified because of their right to freedom of expression at the expense of other civil and political rights,” it added.

CA Third Division Associate Justice Jose Lorenzo Dela Rosa penned the ruling and concurred with Associate Justices Nina G. Antonio-Valenzuela and Emily Aliño-Geluz.

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