Families and supporters of political prisoners Reina Mae Nasino, Ram Carlo Bautista, and Alma Moran trooped to the Court of Appeals (CA) Division 12 in Ermita, Manila to demand immediate resolution for the Petition for Certiorari filed by legal counsels from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL). The said petition was filed on September 24 last year, more than nine months ago.

The Tondo 3, as they are collectively called, were arrested in a midnight police raid operation at the Bayan Manila office in Tondo on November 5, 2019. They accused police of planting guns and explosives, which is the same accusation and story in almost all illegal possession of firearms and explosives charges police filed against activists.

As per the Petition for Certiorari, the legal counsels of Tondo 3 asked the Court of Appeals to resolve whether or not Judge Marivic Balisi-Umali of Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 20 acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction when:

  • She allowed non-compliance with the prescribed period for filing meritorious motions under the Revised Guidelines to diminish Petitioners’ constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure
  • She upheld the validity of Search warrant No. 5944 (19) and Search Warrant No. 5945 (19) despite the fact that they were served in a place different from the place stated in the warrants and that they failed to describe the place to be searched with particularity; and,
  • She baselessly and prematurely ruled that the assailed search warrants were issued with probable cause, considering that she has not even examined the search warrant records.

On June 10 and 16, 2020, the Tondo 3 filed their Urgent Motion and Joint Omnibus Motion for quashal of search warrants and suppression of seized evidence. However, Judge Marivic Balisi-Umali of Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 20 denied these in an order dated July 1. On the same date, the three filed their Joint Omnibus Motion for Reconsideration but this was denied on July 22.

The search warrant issued against Bayan Manila Campaign Officer Bautista by QC Executive Judge Cecilyn-Burgos Villavert followed other warrants that put in jail two activists in Manila and 57 in Negros on October 31, 2019.

“Hindi naman lingid sa kaalaman ng lahat na itong ginamit na search warrant sa Tondo 3 ay mula sa opisina ni warrant factory queen Judge Cecilyn Villavert,” Bayan Manila spokesperson Mona Reyes said.  

[It is public knowledge that these search warrants used against Tondo come from the office of warrant factory queen Judge Cecilyn Villavert.]

Reyes said that CA should probe Villavert and other magistrates who are being used by police and law enforcement forces to weaponize the law against critics and activists. She also decried how some courts have been turned into warrant factories.

“Gusto naming ipaalam sa CA na mayroong isang hukom dito sa Quezon City na naghahasik ng lagim, ginagamit ang kanilang kapangyarihan upang ikulong ang mga kritiko, aktibista at oganisasyong oposisyon,” stressed Reyes.

[We want the CA to know there is one judge in Quezon City sowing terror, using her power to jail critics, activists, and opposition groups.]

A Supreme Court circular in 2004 allowed the Executive Judges of Manila and Quezon City, and in their absence, their vice executive judges, to issue search warrants outside their judicial jurisdictions. Villavert issued warrants in 2019 and 2020 to arrest the Tondo 3 or Manila 5 (including Cora Agovida and Michael Tan Bartolome), Human Rights Day 7 and more than 57 in Negros or around 70 activists. Manila Executive and Vice Executive Judges issued the warrants police served in Batangas, Laguna, and Rizal on March 7 this year, now known as Bloody Sunday, where 9 were killed and 6 were arrested.

Reyes said that human rights advocates and progressive groups have appealed to different government agencies to appeal for the immediate release of Nasino, Bautista, and Moran.

Nasino spent almost her entire pregnancy in jail. She gave birth on July 1 last year and stayed in jail with her baby for a month and lost Baby River only a month after being separated from her. The Manila court also denied the petition for mother and daughter to stay together for a year in a hospital or in the jail infirmary. The judge also inhibited from Nasino’s request from furlough when her baby was declared in critical condition at the Philippine General Hospital. She was able to visit the wake and burial of her baby handcuffed and under heavy security.

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