SC wants judges to be cautious in issuing search, arrest warrants

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    CHIEF Justice Diosdado Peralta yesterday reminded judges to be more circumspect in issuing search warrants as the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) asked the Supreme Court to look into what it claimed was a “seemingly irregular” issuance of search and arrest warrants that led to the arrests of activists in Bacolod and Manila.

    SC spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said Peralta made the call after learning of the arrests of more than 60 activists by state security forces.

    “Upon learning of this, Chief Justice Peralta immediately directed the Court Administrator to remind judges to be deliberate, circumspect, and prudent with the issuances of warrants,” Hosaka said.

    However, Hosaka acknowledged that executive judges of Manila and Quezon City are “really authorized to issues search warrants which may be implemented nationwide in certain instances (and) provided that the legal requirements are met.”

    Hosaka said those who feel aggrieved with the issuance of the warrants may file a motion to quash, either before the court that issued them, or before the court where the cases are pending.

    The NUPL has urged the SC to look into the search and arrest warrants issued by Quezon City RTC Executive Judge Evelyn Burgos Villabert, saying the judge may have violated the judicial code of conduct provisions.

    The NUPL was raising an issue on the meeting between Villabert and NCRPO Director Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas at the QC Hall of Justice in the afternoon of October 30.

    The group said the “visitation/dialogue” occurred on the same day that Villabert issued the search warrants used in the joint police-military raids of the offices and residences of human rights defenders and people’s organizations in Negros Occidental and Manila the following day.

    Around 62 activists were arrested in simultaneous raids at the offices of Bayan Muna, Gabriela and the National Federation of Sugar Workers in Bacolod City, while the spokesperson of Gabriela-Metro Manila chapter and her husband, Cora Agovida and Michael Bartolome, were arrested in Manila for illegal possession of firearms, ammunitions and explosives.

    Bacolod City is about 486 kilometers away from Quezon City.

    “Our information is that the Executive Judge had also issued the search warrants in different places which led to the filing of assailed charges for purported illegal possession of firearms and explosives against several activists and peace consultants,” the NUPL said in a statement signed by the group’s president Edre Olalia.

    The NUPL said it aware of the existence of an order issued by the SC in 2004 on the Guidelines on the Selection and Designation of Executive Judges and Defining their Powers, Prerogatives and Duties, which authorizes certain executive judges of Regional Trial Courts of Manila and Quezon City, as an exception to the general rule that it must be the court within whose territorial jurisdiction a crime was committed, to act upon applications filed by the police for search warrants involving, among others, illegal possession of firearms and ammunitions.

    However, they argued the same circular requires that such applications shall be personally endorsed by the heads of such agencies.

    The NUPL said executive judges are also required to keep a special docket book listing the details of the applications and the results of the searches and seizures made pursuant to the warrants issued. “Did the honorable judge hear any witness, ask and document searching questions to personally determine the existence of probable cause as mandated by the Constitution and the Rules of Criminal Procedure? What was the reason behind and what really transpired during the meeting between the honorable judge and the police chief the day before the issuance of the warrant?’ the NUPL said.

    Likewise, they said Villabert should also make available at the proper forum and time the “special docket book” which contains the details of the application for purposes of transparency and scrutiny.

    “Lastly, why was there a need to apply for a search warrant in a faraway court when the same can be procured in a closer regional court without compromising secrecy and service of the warrant?’ the group asked.

    “In the interest of due process and justice and to ensure the independence of the judiciary, we as officers of the court respectfully call on the Supreme Court to look into the seemingly irregular issuance of search and arrest warrants essentially based on political designs,” the NUPL said.