Support group asks dismissal of charges, release of 5 persons

Published March 6, 2021, 12:52 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

An advocacy group has urged the regional trial courts (RTCs) in Manila and Quezon City to dismiss the charges and order the release of five other persons who were arrested last Dec. 10 and charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

In a statement, Kapatid – a support group of families and friends of political prisoners – aired the call after the Mandaluyong City RTC last Friday, March 5, affirmed its decision that dismissed the charges against journalist Lady Ann D. Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo S. Esparago and ordered their release.

It said Romina Astudillo, Mark Ryan Cruz, Joel Demate, Jayme Gregorio and Dennise Velasco were arrested and charged like Salem and Esparago.

The criminal cases against Astudillo, Cruz, Gregorio and Velasco are pending before the Quezon City RTC, while that of Demate’s is with the Manila RTC, Kapatid Spokesperson Fides Lim said.

“While we celebrate the release of Salem and Esparago, we assert our call for the release of Romina Astudillo, Mark Ryan Cruz, Joel Demate, Jaymie Gregorio, and Dennise Velasco,” Kapatid said.

It pointed out that “the cases filed against them for illegal possession of firearms and explosives are likewise clearly fabricated and baseless and there is no reason why the courts should keep them unjustly in prolonged detention.”

In an order dated March 5, Mandaluyong City RTC Presiding Judge Monique A. Quisumbing Ignacio denied the prosecution’s motion for reconsideration which sought to overturn her Feb. 5 order that dismissed the charges on account of “null and void” arrest warrants.

With the order of denial, Judge Ignacio granted the separate pleas of Salem and Esparago for their release.

“We laud Judge Quisumbing-Ignacio for her independence and integrity in deciding the cases involving Salem and Esparago based on the rule of law despite the government’s relentless efforts to block their release. We sincerely ask other judges to take up the example set by Judge Quisumbing-Ignacio,” Kapatid pointed out.

“The dismissal of the cases against Salem and Esparago clearly proves that the charges are hollow. This should open the way for the release of all of the Human Rights Day 7 (referring to the 7 persons arrested last Dec. 10) as with so many other activists who were arrested on similar baseless search warrants….,” it added.