Journo, unionist still detained after case dismissal

By: Marlon Ramos - Reporter / @MRamosINQ - Inquirer.net | February 13,2021 - 07:35 AM

Lady Ann Salem —PHOTOS BY NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

The lawyers for detained journalist Lady Ann Salem have asked a Mandaluyong City court to order her immediate release from detention following the dismissal last week of the criminal case filed against her and a union organizer.

In a 10-page comment, lawyers from the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) said the Feb. 5 ruling of Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio of Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 209—which quashed the search warrant used in the arrest of Salem and Rodrigo Esparago and dismissed the charge of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against them—was deemed “final and executory” since it was based on the merits of the case.

They said giving due course to the argument of Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Queruben Garcia that Ignacio’s decision was still appealable would violate the constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy.

“The Constitution expressly adopted the double jeopardy policy, laying the presumption that a second trial will be unfair if the innocence of the accused has already been confirmed by a previous final judgment,” the PILC lawyers said, citing the Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution.

“Our rules on criminal proceedings require that a judgment of acquittal, whether ordered by the trial or the appellate court, is final, unappealable and immediately executory upon its promulgation,” they added.

Rodrigo Esparago

But the City Prosecutor’s Office, acting on behalf of the Philippine National Police, the complainant in the case, maintained that Ignacio’s ruling had not yet attained finality, hence Salem could not yet be released.

“Sans conclusiveness, the order dismissing the charges against accused Salem remain[s] subject to consideration or appeal, rendering improper her plea for immediate release,” the prosecutor said.

Salem, an editor of the news website Manila Today, and Esparago were among the seven people who were arrested in a series of police operations on Dec. 10 last year. Supporters have since called them the “Human Rights Day 7” for they were arrested as the world marked International Human Rights Day.

The two were picked up by agents of the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) at their rented condominium in Mandaluyong based on a search warrant issued by Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert of Quezon City RTC Branch 89.

PNP admonished

Ignacio voided the search warrant, citing its “vagueness,” and admonished the policemen for the inconsistencies in their statements.

The judge reminded the CIDG that the law should be enforced with “strict observance of the constitutional and statutory rights of our people.”

She also ordered expunged from the case records the entry regarding the firearms and ammunition that the PNP presented as evidence against Salem and Esparago. Also ruled as inadmissible were the laptops, cell phones and other devices seized from the respondents’ condo unit. —WITH REPORTS FROM CATHRINE GONZALES AND NIKKA G. VALENZUELA

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TAGS: detention, Esparago, Public Interest Law Center, Quisumbing-Ignacio, release, Salem

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