Philippine Court Dismisses Illegal Firearms Charges Against Journalist

Nonoy Espina
Bacolod, Philippines
2021-02-05
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Philippine Court Dismisses Illegal Firearms Charges Against Journalist A protester raises a mask inscribed with “justice” during a rally in Manila to mark International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, 2020.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

A Philippine judge dismissed charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives Friday against a journalist, Lady Ann Salem, who was arrested in December in what rights and media groups said was a government attempt to silence critical voices.

The judge also dismissed similar charges against a trade union activist, Rodrigo Esparago. The two were among seven people taken into custody on Dec. 10, when police officers allegedly found weapons and explosives in their homes after serving them with search warrants.

The warrants served on Salem and Esparago “were issued in violation of the constitution and Rules of Court,” Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio, of the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court, said in her order dismissing the charges.

Therefore, items found during the course of their arrest were deemed “inadmissible in evidence, being fruits of the poisonous tree” and leaving the cases with “no leg to stand on,” the judge ruled.

Because of “numerous inconsistencies” in the testimonies of the police officers, which were the “sole basis for the issuance of the search warrants,” Quisumbing-Ignacio said “probable cause was not sufficiently established.”

Salem is the editor of an online publication, Manila Today. The military had accused it of being a front for communist insurgents. Salem had strongly denied the accusation.

Kristina Konti, Salem’s lawyer, said they may file counter-charges against the police and the judge who issued the warrant.

“[W]e can … focus our attention on exacting accountability,” she told BenarNews.

The Public Interest Law Center (PILC), a legal rights NGO, called the decision to dismiss charges against Salem and Esparago “a severe blow” to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict,” a body whose mission it is to end a 52-year insurgency.

The task force had “claimed the arrests as a victory in the anti-insurgency campaign,” PILC said.  

The military task force has “red tagged” several people, in addition to Salem.

As part of red tagging, the military names groups or individuals as being supporters of communist rebels, or as insurgents themselves involved with alleged legal fronts for the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.

This week, the task force’s spokesman, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., accused another journalist of being a propagandist for communist insurgents.

The reporter, Tetch Torres-Tupas, works for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She had reported about a petition by two members of an Aeta tribe against an anti-terrorism law, which the government passed last year.

Torres-Tupas wrote about the tribe members asking for the Supreme Court’s permission to join 37 petitions that seek to declare the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 unconstitutional. Rights groups have said the law is meant to stifle dissent against the government of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Harassment of the reporters has become common in the Philippines. Duterte has been at odds with journalists for reporting on his administration’s drug war, which has left thousands of dead since he took office in 2016.

In addition, his legislative allies last year shut down the free channel of national broadcaster ABS-CBN Corp., while the head of online news site Rappler, Maria Ressa, was convicted of cyber libel, but remains free pending an appeal.

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