A human rights group lauded the decision of a Manila regional trial court (RTC) which acquitted a couple of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
In a statement, Karapatan said the RTC decision “reaffirms the assertions of those unjustly arrested and detained that there were violations of their rights to due process, that pieces of evidence were planted against them, and that the charges were all made up by a regime that desperately seeks to silence activists and defenders.”
Acquitted in a decision handed down by Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Marlo A. Magdoza Malagar were Michael T. Bartolome, an urban poor organizer, and Cora M. Agovida, a women’s rights activist.
Karapatan said “the couple were with two of their young children when the police raided their home in the dead of the night.”
It said that among the 76 persons arrested based on the search warrants issued in 2019 “22 individuals including Agovida and Bartolome remain in prison, while two others continue to face charges as they were released on bail.”
In acquitting Bartolome and Agovida, Judge Malagar ruled that the prosecution failed “to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”
Bartolome and Agovida were arrested in their apartment in Manila on Oct. 31, 2019 by operatives of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on the basis of the search warrant issued by Quezon City RTC Judge Celilyn E. Burgos Villabert. The police said they recovered two handguns and two grenades from them.
“In sum, the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt Bartolome’s and Agovida’s ownership and possession of the firearms, ammunition and explosives and their lack of license to own or possess them. Thus, it failed to overcome the presumption of innocence which the accused enjoy. This court is thus constrained to render a judgment of acquittal,” Judge Malagar said in the decision.
The judge explained that “several circumstances obtain in this case cast reasonable doubt to the prosecution’s claim that the firearms, ammunitions, and explosives were found in the possession of Bartolome and Agovida, during the implementation of the search warrants.”
Also, Judge Malagar said:
“The testimonies of the prosecution witnesses are riddled with inconsistencies on a material point, i.e., the exact locations where the firearms and hand grenades were recovered, that affect the very element of the offense charged which is possession,” the court said.
“On a final note, the irregularities in the implementation of the search warrants, evident from the prosecution’s evidence itself, brings the Court back to Bartolome and Agovida’s protestation at the very onset of these cases — that the application and issuance of the search warrants were improper and had no bases,” Judge Malagar said.
“It is a matter of judicial notice that the application and implementation of search warrants are susceptible to abuse, a number had even resulted in death under disputed circumstances, that these judicial orders had been dubbed by some as ‘death warrants,’” the judge added.