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SC urged to investigate red-tagging of judge over release of 2 activists

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
SC urged to investigate red-tagging of judge over release of 2 activists
Families and friends of the seven activists gathered at the Commission on Human Rights to call for their release on December 14, 2020.
Karapatan / Release

MANILA, Philippines — Rights lawyers of journalist Lady Ann Salem and labor organizer Rodrigo Esparago called on the Supreme Court to investigate the red-tagging of the Mandaluyong judge who freed the two activists over irregularities in their arrest.

The Public Interest Law Center asked the tribunal for a thorough investigation into the red-tagging of Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio, stressing that the accusation is not only an attack on her but an attempt to "undermine the independence of all judges and courts handling similar cases."

The PILC handled the case against Salem and Esparago. They successfully obtained their release by challenging the validity of the search warrants that were implemented and led to the arrest of the two.

READ: Court junks case vs two of 'Human Rights Day 7,' reminds cops to observe people's rights

The public rights defenders argued that the case dismissal was based on legal merits. The court’s ruling “has been one of the few reassurances that state-sanctioned wrongs and political persecution can be addressed and corrected.”

“This incident invariable shifts the attention to courts which are doing their jobs properly, instead of to law enforcement that violates civil and political rights,” the PILC added.

The red-tagging of Judge Ignacio came days after Calbayog, Samar police had asked the local court for a list of lawyers representing suspected communists.

The PILC noted that insinuation that the judge, Salem and Esparago are linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army is consistent with the “government’s own posturing in these cases,” and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict has repeatedly claimed such connections.

“The awkward feature of photos, prominent use of communist logos and wily messaging has been a hallmark of recent propaganda, all calculated to increase alarm and concern,” the lawyers added.

‘Deadly search warrants’

Calls urging the SC to look into the issuance of warrants continue to grow following the bloody Calabarzon raids where nine died in simultaneous raids on March 9.

Rep. Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna) noted in a separate statement that “deadly search warrants” was first reported in the implementation of warrants issued by Cebu RTC Judge Soliver Peras which led to killings of 14 farmers in Negros Island in March 2019.

Incumbent police chief Debold Sinas, then regional police director, applied for the warrants, Bayan said.

Zarate, also a lawyer, said that attacks on activists and members of the opposition will only worsen if the SC "will close its eyes on the possible accountability of judges who wantonly issue search warrants that result [in] extrajudicial killings."

The lawmaker said the next major series of deadly search warrants came in October 2019 from Quezon City Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert, whose warrants issued in December 2020 for Salem and Esparago were voided by Judge Ignacio.

The said warrants in October 2019 were issued in Bacolod and Manila that led to arrest of dozens of activists, including members of Bayan. Sinas was then head of Metro Manila police.

Zarate claimed that Sinas had also applied for search warrants with the Manila courts for the Calabarzon raids. He asked the SC to also look into Sinas role in the issuance of the warrants.

Peralta, on March 8, ordered the Office of the Court Administrator to submit a report on the search warrants issued by the Manila courts and served on March 7 that led to the bloody Calabarzon raids.

The OCA report found that 63 applications were filed in Manila on the same day, and 42 were granted after two days of hearings.

Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares meanwhile urged the SC to "review their rules on the issuance of warrants by lower courts in light of the use of court processes by the police to attack activists and dissenters."

"We ask the Court to amend their rules and conduct an automatic review of all cases where death results in the course of the implementation of a mere search warrant," Colmenares, also a noted rights lawyer, added.

Colmenares said that the situation under the Duterte’s term is different from past administrations. “We ask for a more pro-active Supreme Court, that will assert its independence and  duty to protect the judiciary, the legal profession and constitutional rights,” he added.

ATTACK ON LAWYERS

SUPREME COURT

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