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Peralta: Judge cleared laws in warrants vs. activists

A Quezon City judge who issued search warrants that led to some 60 activists being arrested cannot be investigated by the Supreme Court because she followed the rules, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta said Friday.

YOUR HONOR, PLEASE. Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta fields questions from media during a meeting Friday with newshounds at the Supreme Court in Manila. Norman Cruz
This developed as the Armed Forces of the Philippines denied the harassment claims of some militant groups following the recent law enforcement operations in Bacolod City and Manila, which led to the arrest of dozens of suspected militants.

A rights group had condemned police who raided the offices of progressive organizations in Bacolod on the strength of a search warrant issued by Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.

In his first official press conference as Chief Justice, Peralta said the Supreme Court has not received a report on the matter but has so far gathered that she “followed all the rules.”

As the executive judge of the Quezon City RTC, Villavert is authorized to issue search warrants to be served nationwide, Peralta said. 

The executive judge of the Manila Regional Trial Court is the only other judge with this power, he noted.

“How can there be [harassment] if the search is covered by appropriate warrants issued by the court?”  AFP spokesperson Marine Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in a statement forwarded to reporters Thursday night.

“That we submitted our application for Search Warrant to the scrutiny of the issuing judge and the latter finds probable cause to issue a SW shows that there are sufficient grounds to conduct the search,” Arevalo added.

The local judge also required the policemen or military men who implemented the warrant to report to the court within 10 days, Peralta noted.

“[Villavert] conducted hearing to determine the existence of probable cause, she conducted the required searching questions, extensive questions and when she was satisfied with the existence of probable cause, she issued a search warrant,” the Chief Justice said.

“Can we now take the initiative to investigate her? There is no basis,” he said.

If there is, Peralta said the high court would refer the matter to the Office of the Court Administrator for investigation.

Regarding claims that the firearms and explosives, which were reportedly confiscated from the suspects were planted by government troops, Arevalo said these allegations must be proven by those arrested in court.

“There is this legal maxim that says, ‘He who makes the assertions has the burden of proving his claim.’ Therefore, if they allege that the 32 firearms, 130 rounds of ammunition, and five pieces of explosives were planted by lawmen, they must prove so,” he added.

Arevalo said the actions of the law enforcers who applied for warrants used in operations are presumed to be official.

“At the very least, they are clothed with the presumption of regularity,” he added.

Peralta said a formal complaint has to be filed against judges for an investigation to start. unless the High Court believes a judge decided in a way that “misapprehended the fact” and “misapplied the law,” in which case the SC can initiate one on its own.

Peralta said he himself issued search warrants as a judge and described the process as time-consuming, considering the hearing that has to be conducted to determine the merit of applications.

He explained that search warrants must be issued confidentially to avoid leakages that would jeopardize law enforcement operations.

“So they envisioned a system, they adopted a system where to avoid leakage, they authorized the judges in Manila, in Quezon City to issue search warrants nationwide, even outside their territorial jurisdiction,” he said.

The AFP spokesman added that claims made by militant groups stating they are legitimate organizations do not mean they are above the law.

“By claiming that they are legitimate organizations does not make them exempted from legal processes. Even homes of military or police officials, or of private individuals for that matter, they are not beyond the powers of the court to order a search. If they feel aggrieved, the proper resort is with the courts,” Arevalo said. 

READ: Be prudent in issuing warrants—CJ

READ: PNP defends mass arrest

READ: State crackdown on dissent hit

Topics: Supreme Court , Diosdado Peralta , Activist , Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert , Edgard Arevalo
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