December 1, 2022

Quebec court dismisses firearms case against union organizer

MANILA – A court in Quezon City has ordered the release and dismissed the illegal possession of firearms case against a labor organizer who was among 7 human rights activists arrested in December 2020, collectively known as of “HRD7”.

Judge Jose Paneda, Branch 220 of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, in an order dated March 2, granted Dennise Velasco’s omnibus motion to quash the search warrant, suppress the evidence and dismiss the case against him.

“As the search and seizure warrant in this case was obtained in violation of the Constitution and Rules of Court, all items seized from the house of the accused, being ‘fruits of the poisonous tree ‘, are inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding.Therefore, the complaints brought against the defendant Velasco for unlawful possession of firearms, ammunition and explosives on the basis of evidence obtained unlawfully have no more foundation,” he said.

Velasco was arrested on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2020, on separate service of search warrants by police officers, including journalist Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago.

Velasco, Salem, Esparago and 4 others were charged with running a gun syndicate – an allegation they denied.

Salem and Esparago were released in March last year after a court in Mandaluyong dismissed the case against them.

Like Salem and Esparago, Velasco said he was arrested in the early hours of the morning on the basis of an illegally issued general search warrant, which he says was improperly implemented because it involved the production of evidence.

Judge Paneda sided with Velasco in ruling that the search warrant issued by Quezon City Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert was issued without probable cause because her questioning of the search warrant applicant and witnesses “failed the thorough and exhaustive investigation required for a determination of probable cause.

“Nowhere, though, in the affidavit and witness testimony, Pat. [_____] Ambuyoc and PCPT [____] Visco, it was mentioned that they had personal knowledge of the defendant’s lack of license or firearms license. Questioned by the issuing judge, PCPT Visco contented himself with affirming that he had made the request for a verification report to confirm whether the persons allegedly in possession of the firearms are authorized to possess them or not. This, however, does not satisfy the requirement that a witness must testify about personal knowledge, not beliefs,” he said.

“It didn’t even occur to the investigating judge to clarify with the police how they carried out the confirmatory surveillance operation against Rodrigo Esparago’s group on November 27, 2020,” he added. , reproducing the excerpts from the testimony of the two cops admitting that they simply relied on the information on the supposed illegal activity and surveillance of the informant “Geronimo”.

Paneda also criticized the “lack of specificity in the description of electronic devices” in the search warrant which “allowed the raid team to exercise unbridled discretion to confiscate virtually any evidence they believed matched the items listed in the impugned search warrants”.

In the Salem and Esparago case, a court in Mandaluyong also quashed Burgos-Villavert’s search warrant for “vagueness”, accusing the police of undertaking a “fishing expedition”.

Because the search warrant was quashed, the court said the items seized were not admissible as evidence and the criminal cases “no longer have a basis on which to stand.”

REACTION

Velasco’s lawyers from the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) welcomed the ruling, saying the Quezon City court’s findings prove “how determined state forces are to suppress the exercise of labor rights. promoted by union organizers such as Velasco as well as activists in general.

“The police and their perjured witnesses had been so desperate to pin down Velasco’s union efforts that they even went so far as to concoct fantastical stories against him and the other 5 union organizers, including Salem, that they are alleged members. of a gun union,” they said in a statement.

“Lamentably, this case is another proof of how the law has been weaponized against the exercise of freedoms and rights and the judicial system twisted to some extent what institutions should have been one of the recourses of the people when their rights and freedoms are violated”. “, they added.

With the dismissal of the Velasco case and the earlier dismantling of the Salem and Esparago cases, only 4 of the HRD7 remain behind bars.

In April last year, a court in Manila dismissed a motion to quash filed by trade unionist Joel Demate, while a court in Quezon City in May last year also dismissed a similar petition filed by labor organizers Romina Astudillo, Mark Ryan Cruz and Jaymie Gregorio, Jr.

Quezon City, Human Rights Day 7, HRD7, Dennise Velasco, illegal possession of firearms, Cecilyn Burgos-Villaver