MANILA, Philippines — Four of the seven activists arrested early in December, called the “Human Rights Day 7” for the day they were arrested, will be spending Christmas in detention over charges they said are fabricated.
Trade union organizers Dennise Velasco, Mark Ryan Cruz, Romina Astudillo and Jaymie Gregorio were supposed to be released on bail, but the prosecution issued an amended resolution that recommended that they not be allowed bail over a charge that was supposed to be for further investigation, their legal counsel said.
Lawyer Ephraim Cortez told reporters that the four, arrested on December 10, were charged in court for illegal possession of firearms while the illegal possession of explosives raps against them were initially recommended for preliminary investigation.
Preliminary investigation is a process where the prosecutor determines if there is probable cause to charge suspects in court.
“They posted bail for the firearms charges and were ordered released, but they were not released because the prosecutors issued an amended resolution charging them also with [illegal possession of] explosives,” Cortez said.
The prosecution said no bail is recommended for the charge.
Police filed motion for reconsideration
Deputy City Prosecutor Leilia Llanes said in the amended resolution dated December 22 that the police filed an ex parte (on one side or party) urgent motion for reconsideration filed December 18.
"The complainant argues that although the hand grenade, the .22 caliber Astra pistol, the .22 caliber [Bernardelli] pistol and the .9mm pistol with magazines and ammunitions were not included in the search warrant issued by the Court, they should be included in the indictments for they were discovered in plain view,” part of the resolution indicting Velasco read.
“Moreover, the firearms should be included for they are of a similar nature to the firearms listed in the search warrant,” it added.
The prosecution then held that upon re-evaluation and finding of the police’s argument as meritorious, it granted the motion for reconsideration and indicted Velasco on illegal possession of explosives for the hand grenades and illegal possession of firearms for the three pistols.
Lawyer: Defense was kept in the dark on police appeal
Cortez said they only found out about the amended resolution when they brought the release order for the four after they posted bail on the illegal possession of firearms charge.
Velasco paid a total of P350,000 for his bail, while the three others paid P200,000 each.
He said they were initially told that Velasco could not be released, and were only shown the new resolution later. The same also happened in the cases of Cruz, Astudillo and Gregorio.
"We were kept in the dark that there is a motion for reconsideration of the Philippine National Police and that an amended resolution was issued. In fact, we do not hold an official copy of the amended resolution," he added in a mix of English and Filipino.
Cortez added they were only shown copies of the amended resolution on the afternoon of December 23.
“Late afternoon of December 23 was when they showed copies of the amended resolution,” Cortez added.
The arrest of the four, as well as of fellow trade union organizers Joel Demante and Rodrigo Esparago and Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem, drew scrutiny of how search warrants are issued and implemented. Rights group said the process should be reviewed since the warrants—requested directly from judges by law enforcement—may be used to target activists.
Velasco and Demate also asked the Supreme Court to release them through a petition for habeas corpus, alleging illegality in their arrest.
"If such acts will be tolerated, this will condone and even embolden other police and law enforcement agents to wantonly violate the right of any citizen, illegally arrest them and file a criminal case later on to cure the ab initio defect or irregularity," the petition read.
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