“Simply put, the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and Philippine National Police (PNP) had no solid, intelligent basis before launching massive operations in a rural sitio in Nasugbu, Batangas in April 2020.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The Regional Trial Court of Nasugbu, Batangas Branch 14 dismissed the charges against a store owner falsely accused of being an officer of the New People’s Army (NPA), the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) said on Wednesday, May 19.
In an amended order dated May 6, 2021, Presiding Judge Wilhelmina B. Go-Santiago cleared Lamberto Asinas of illegal possession of firearms and explosives after granting his motion to quash the search warrant used against him, therefore declared all evidence gathered during the search as inadmissible.
“Critical lie thus debunked, the court ruled that police had no personal knowledge at all before it secured the search warrant,” Rachel Pastores, managing counsel of the PILC said in a statement. “Asinas maintains police then planted firearms and explosives in his house when they implemented the warrant.”
Asinas was arrested in barangay Bunducan, Nasugbu, Batangas on April 16, 2020. He was accused of being an intelligence regional officer of the NPA.
According to a state media report, Colonel Alex Rillera, Commander of the 202nd Brigade, claimed that Asinas was identified by former rebels, “one of whom was included in a mass surrender.” Asinas was reportedly located through reports from the neighborhood.
But upon review of the records of the warrant application before executive judge Cynthia R. Mariño-Ricablanca of RTC Sta. Cruz, Laguna, the Nasugbu court reversed the finding of probable cause, the PILC said, stating that it “failed legal standards of evidence and constitutional court scrutiny required for search warrants.”
Based on the order, the local government unit in barangay Bunducan issued a certification attesting that the police’s informant does not live in the said barangay. This claim was supported by 71 residents of sitio Alas-as who signed a joint statement stating the same.
In her decision, Go-Santiago pointed out that the “judge must not simply rehash the contents of the affidavit but must make his own inquiry on the intent and justification of the application.”
“Simply put, the AFP and Philippine National Police (PNP) had no solid, intelligent basis before launching massive operations in a rural sitio in Nasugbu, Batangas in April 2020,” Pastores pointed out.
“Police claimed that they had come to the area that time, conducted surveillance under a tree from a neighbor’s house, and seen Asinas shoving long firearms in a sack,” she said, adding that this claim was refuted by the neighbors of Asinas and by barangay officials.
In an earlier Bulatlat report, NPA’s Eduardo Dagli Command in Batangas also issued a statement saying that Asinas is an “ordinary farmer much like the majority of farmers in Nasugbu who experience and suffer from widespread land-grabbing and land-use conversion.”
PILC said that Asinas expressed fears for his life despite the dismissal of charges after being vilified and red-tagged in the media.
“Red-tagged individuals have little or no recourse even after charges are dismissed,” Pastores said.
“The military and police are not compelled nor have they volunteered to retract their malicious statements and, in most cases, have refused to acknowledge the errors in their ways,” she added.
This is the second dismissal of illegal possession of firearms in Batangas, the PILC said. The first was the case of the six farmers from Calaca, also known as the Calaca 6, who were arrested by virtue of a search warrant also issued by Ricablanca.
Similar decisions were made by the courts in the cases of Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago, as well as that of Karina Mae De La Cerna, Cherryl Catalogo, and John Milton Lozande in Bacolod City.
“The AFP and the PNP in Southern Tagalog are losing credibility with these kinds of operations, as the victims and residents resolutely, bravely push back,” Pastores said.
“As long as our clients stand strong, the PILC will stand for them in court just as well,” Pastores said.