The Bacolod City Regional Trial Court voided the search warrants issued by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court against the activists who were arrested in 2019.
RTC Branch 41 acting presiding judge Ana Celeste Bernad, in her resolution dated February 18, said that the decision to quash the search warrants against John Milton Lozande, secretary-general of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), was because of the failure to describe the place to be searched.
The voided search warrants were issued by Quezon City Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert in October 2019.
Bernad said the search warrant “failed to describe the place with particularity for the manifest intention thereof is that the search shall be confined strictly to the place so described.”
“Search warrant No. 5951(19) failed to describe the place with particularity. It simply authorizes a search of No. 222 Ilang-Ilang Street, Barangay Bata, Bacolod City, Negros Occidental,” the court said, after conducting an ocular inspection of the site of the search on January 29, 2021.
It added that “the said address, however, upon entry is made up of three structures that can be seen inside the compound containing a lot area of 375 square meters or more or less. It would seem that the warrant gives the raiding team unbridled and thus illegal authority to search all the structures found inside the above-stated address.”
“In view of the manifest objective of the constitutional safeguard against unreasonable search, the Constitution and the Rules limit the place to be searched only to those described in the warrant,” the court also said.
The court also said that all the evidence obtained shall be inadmissible.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), which acted as counsel of Lozande, had questioned the validity of the search warrants issued by the Quezon judge.
In a statement by NUPL-Panay, the same resolutions were also issued in the cases of Karina Mae De La Cerna, Cherryl Catalogo, Proseso Quiatchon, Albert De La Cerna, and Noli Rosales, who were also arrested at that time along with Lozande.
Of the six, only Lozande was able to post bail after he was charged for illegal possession of firearms. The others were also accused of illegal possession of explosives, which is non-bailable.
“This latest decision of the court which overturned the presumption that the search warrant issued by Judge Burgos-Villavert satisfied the constitutional requirement of definiteness, has increasingly disproved the competence and integrity of the said judge as well as other similar judges who have arbitrarily issued search warrants against known activist and members of caused-oriented organizations,” NUPL said.
It added, “for the NUPL, the decision is an affirmation of the truth that the accused were unjustly charged and were subjected to repression by the estate forces due to their social advocacies. It is a victory for the rule of law and the cause of justice.”*