Dated July 17, Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 47 presided by Judge John Benedict has acquitted Reina Mae Nasino, Alma Moran, and Ram Carlo Bautista also known as the Tondo 3 following the charges on illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Accordingly, the court noted on the unmistakable conflicting testimonies of the prosecution witnesses that generated serious doubt on the alleged crimes against Tondo 3, such as whether the firearms with ammunitions and explosives were really found in the rooms as they were not identified with sufficient particularity.

“Basic is the rule in this jurisdiction that the burden rests on the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the offense charged. It requires only a moral certainty or that degree of proof which produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind; it does not demand absolute certainty and the exclusion of all possibility of error,” the Court added.

On Villavert warrants

The Tondo 3 were arrested via raid crackdown following a search warrant issued by Quezon City Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert also known as the “factory warrant queen”.  

Villavert is responsible to the numerous warrants issued against activists in Manila and Bacolod like peace consultant Esterlita Suaybaguio in August 2019, couple activists Cora Agovida and Michael Tan Bartolome in October 2019 followed by the Tondo 3 in November 2019.

Another arrests were made during International Human Rights Day in December 2020 on the basis of Villavert warrants against six labor union organizers namely Mark Ryan Cruz, Denise Velasco, Rodrigo Esparago, Joel Demate, Jaymie Gregorio, and Romina Astudillo alongside Manila Today editor and journalist Lady Ann Salem. They are referred to as Human Rights Day 7.

Esparago and Salem, who were both detained in Mandaluyong City Jail, were both released following a dismissal of their case in February 2021. They were released a month after. A year after, in March 2023, Velasco was also freed from all charges. Only four individuals including Cruz, Gregorio, Demate, and Astudillo of HRD7 remained in prison.

The above-named activists and journalists were all arrested in a similar pattern of midnight raid operations followed by an allegation based on charges of firearms, ammunition, and explosives possession, then accused as per being in a “gun running syndicate”. While such accusations were made against them, they were further linked and tagged as “high ranking officals” of the Communist Party of the Philippines – New Peoples’ Army (CPP-NPA) of which the Philippine government affiliates as “terrorist organizations”.

Do we still see a similar pattern of arrests?

In June 2021, the Supreme Court has issued a resolution citing new rules on the use of body-worn cameras in the execution of warrants following complaints among lawyers’ groups and several human rights advocates expressing concerns over law enforcement operations.

Atty. Tony La Viña said that through this issuance, even with some identifiable gaps, could be a game changer especially with the numerous human rights violations and unjustly detained because of abuse of police officers enforcing search and arrest warrants.

“Hopefully this will put an end to courts in the National Capital Region that have functioned as factory warrants. These courts outside their jurisdiction, an anomalous situation which the former rules allowed,” Atty. La Viña added.

However, given this implementation, the crackdown against activists and critics of the government, especially with yet another Marcos, has remained.

Last October 2022, labor rights activist Benjamin Cordero was arrested for an alleged frustrated homicide case. He was taken by eight non-uniformed policemen, of which one was equipped with a short and long arm. Upon entrance of the police, Cordero was immediately pointed a gun when his wife and child were with him before he was read the Miranda rights.

Cordero has been held incommunicado for hours and subjected to intense interrogation in Batasan Police Station 6. He was released a day after his arrest by posting bail.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan National Capital Region (BAYAN NCR) slammed the Marcos Jr. administration along with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for manufacturing charges and perpetuating the killings of human rights advocates as well as the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).

On the other hand, rights group KARAPATAN has documented 60 cases of extrajudicial killings (EJK), 28 cases of frustrated EJKs, eight cases of enforced disappearance, 11 cases of torture, 266 cases of illegal arrest, 7,172 victims of indiscriminate firing, and 6,931 incidents of counter-insurgency related bombings under the first-year term of Marcos-Duterte administration.

Additionally, more than 300 people have also died in anti-narcotics operations.

Of the recent human rights violations, the usage of ATA has now been used against activists and human rights defenders. Southern Tagalog region, in particular, has 13 human rights defenders and political activists who are facing ATA complaints as of July 2023.

“Patuloy tayong nanawagagan na palayain ang lahat ng bilanggong pulitikal na ikinulong sa mga gawa-gawang kaso at modus na tanim ebidensya ng AFP-PP gaya ng HRD7 at marami pang bilanggong pulitikal,” said KARAPATAN NCR.


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