Judge quashes CHR search warrant
() - July 27, 2009 - 12:00am

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – A Manila regional trial court (RTC) judge has quashed the search warrant that he earlier had issued to a Commission on Human Rights-led multi-agency task force investigating a quarry site here where the remains of supposed victims of the so-called Davao Death Squad were believed buried.

In an order last July 23, Judge William Peralta of Manila RTC Branch 50 declared that any evidence obtained by virtue of the search warrant he issued last July 10 “may be suppressed for being inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding.”

Lawyer Victorio Advincula, legal counsel of former SPO4 Bienvenido Laud, owner of the quarry site in Barangay Ma-a, cited the grounds in their urgent motion to quash the search warrant that allowed the CHR team entry into the area, which has been converted into a firing range.

The quarry site yielded a few leg bones, skull parts and license plates.

Laud said he was not served the search warrant properly nor was he allowed to enter his own property during the first week of the CHR search.

The CHR team was initially able to enter the quarry site last July 6 by virtue of a search warrant issued by another Manila RTC judge, Romulo Lopez.

Since the search warrant did not cover other parts of the Laud property, the CHR team applied for but was denied another search warrant by a Davao City judge, forcing them to get one from Manila that Peralta issued.

Two days after Peralta granted the warrant, CHR chief Leila de Lima went here to personally lead the search.

Lawyer Vitaliano Aguirre II, who also represents Laud, argued that Manila courts have “no territorial jurisdiction over the place where the alleged offense was committed.”

Saying that no separate criminal action has yet been instituted against his client, Aguirre said, “Clearly, any application for a search warrant should be filed only with the judge within whose territorial jurisdiction the crime was committed.”

“The place of the commission of the offense being Davao City, the (Manila) court clearly had no jurisdiction to entertain any application for, much less issue the search warrant,” he said, adding that police did not substantiate claims that Davao courts would be biased against them.

Aguirre also argued that Peralta lacked authority to issue the search warrant as he was still covered by an administrative sanction imposed by the Supreme Court for violating court directives in another case.

Because of the administrative sanction, he said Peralta was stripped of his position as vice executive judge.

“The imposition upon an executive judge or vice executive judge of an administrative penalty of at least a reprimand shall automatically operate to divest him of his position as such,” Aguirre said, citing Section 5 of the February 2004 SC Guidelines on the Selection and Appointment of Executive Judges.

“Following that Judge Peralta had been automatically divested of his position as vice executive judge earlier, he, therefore, had no authority as to even accept the application for search warrant filed by the applicant,” he added.

Aguirre also questioned the handling of human remains found in Laud’s quarry site, saying these could not be a basis for the issuance of the search warrant, which only covers “personal properties.”

Aguirre said that under Rules of Court, the human remains should be placed under the court’s jurisdiction.

“Such irresponsible action from the applicant (CIDG) and the other police officers (in not surrendering the seized remains) had increased the probability of twin evils: tampering with the evidence and substitution of the items seized with another,” he said.

Aside from failing to follow the legal requirements for custody of evidence, police also ignored laws on exhumations, provided for under the Sanitation Code (Presidential Decree 856), Aguirre said.

The Sanitation Code, he said, requires the supervision of local health officers in handling exhumed human remains, and any violation of this carries a penalty of up to six months in jail.

Meanwhile, Laud has charged De Lima with indirect contempt for publicly branding the Davao judiciary as “uncooperative, obstructionists and accessories to the culture of impunity.” – With Edu Punay and Nestor Etolle

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