Prosecution blocks release of Manila Today editor Salem despite dismissal of charges

Prosecution blocks release of Manila Today editor Salem despite dismissal of charges
This December 11 photo from the Free Lady Ann Salem Network Facebook page shows Salem after inquest proceedings after her December 10 arrest.

MANILA, Philippines — A week since a Mandaluyong court junked the criminal cases against journalist Lady Ann Salem and she has yet to walk free, as the prosecution blocked their release saying the ruling is not final yet.

Salem’s counsels from the Public Interest Law Center are pressing the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court Branch 209 to issue a release order for the journalist after the prosecution moved to block it despite the dismissal of the charge.

Mandaluyong RTC 209 Presiding Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio on February 5 dismissed the illegal possession of firearms and of explosives cases against Salem and labor organizer Rodrigo Esparago. The court in the same ruling declared the search warrants that was implemented, and led to their arrest, as void.

The PILC then filed an urgent motion for her release, but Senior Associate City Prosecutor Queruben Garcia moved to block it.

In a two-page Comment, Garcia said the order of dismissal has yet to attain finality and they will seek relief. “Sans conclusiveness, the Order dismissing the charges against Accused Salem remain subject to reconsideration or appeal, rendering improper her plea for immediate release,” he added.

READ: 'Human Rights Day 7' had no use for guns or grenades, family and friends say

Defense: Order is tantamount to acquittal

In a Reply filed Thursday, the PILC asserted that the dismissal of the case, after the court had quashed the search warrant and declaration that evidence is inadmissible, is tantamount to acquittal.

“Our rules on criminal proceedings require that a judgment of acquittal, whether ordered by the trial or the appellate court, is final, unappeasable, and immediately executory. The defense invokes the finality-of-acquittal rule,” their pleading made public Friday read.

The defense noted that the Constitution allows the quashal of a search warrant as protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and they invoked this protection in their Joint Omnibus Motion which was eventually granted.

The court in the February 5 ruling held that there were “substantial inconsistencies and contradictions” in the application of the search warrant.

“It is readily apparent that the Honorable Court based its decision-making on a holistic approach to evidentiary matters,” the lawyers said, adding that the court had declared the inadmissibility of the evidence, which means there are no more evidence to support the charges.

“Indubitably, the decision of the judge is an evidentiary ruling and not just interlocutory,” they said.

The PILC argued that when the court ordered the dismissal of the charges, it effectively terminated the case. “[T]he Order of the Honorable Court passed upon evidentiary issues, and concluded that none of the evidence submitted in the indictment are admissible as evidence,” they added.

Double jeopardy

The PILC also said that since the case was dismissed, it “conclusively confirmed the innocence of the accused, thus placing them within the ambit of the rule of double jeopardy.”

The Constitution prohibits that a person be put in jeopardy of punishment for the same offense. Double jeopardy means having the accused answer twice for the same offense.

Following this policy, an appeal by the prosecution in a criminal case is not available, the defense said. “Appealing the Order dated Feb. 5, 2021 will place the accused in double jeopardy because it will open her again to trial, to a reconsideration of facts and evidence, when there has been an evidentiary ruling, one that has adjudicated on the merits of the cases,” they added.

“Accused has already been needlessly aggrieved and molested, if not permanently stigmatized, by the unproved charges. She thus reiterates the prayer for the immediate issuance of a release order by this Honorable Court,” they added.

Salem and Esparago and five other activists were arrested on December 10, as the world commemorated International Human Rights Day. They were arrested also as law enforcers implemented the search warrants that Judge Villavert issued, based on the same surveillance records.

The “HRDay 7” are among the latest of activists jailed over the same charge of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Rights alliance group Karapatan had earlier said that more than 400 political prisoners arrested under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte are accused of the same charges.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: February 8, 2021 – 3:34pm

Dennis Denora, a Sun.Star reporter and publisher of the Trends and Times community paper, has been shot dead by unidentified killers, according to the Davao chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

Denora was killed near the wet market of Panabo City in Davao Del Norte on Thursday afternoon, NUJP Davao says.

The Davao del Norte Press & Radio-TV Club says in a statement that is is angered and saddened by news of the killing.

"His death awakens the anger and pains of journalists who do their job and yet are being judged by the pistol," the group also says.

February 8, 2021 – 3:34pm

Detained journalist Lady Ann Salem, through the Public Interest Law Center, has filed an urgent motion at the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court for her release, Manila Today, of which she is editor, reports.

The court last week junked the charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against Salem and labor organizer Rodrigo Esparago, citing irregularities in how search warrants that led to their arrests were served.

"Law enforcers are authorized to seize only those items listed in the search warrant leaving them with no discretion regarding what articles they shall seize," the court said, adding there were inconsistencies in the testimonies of police officers and an informant that cast doubt on the existence of probable cause to issue the warrant in the first place.

“All told, there being numerous inconsistencies and contradictions, the testimonies of the foregoing witnesses cannot be given full faith and credence,” the order read.

The court said that since the sworn affidavits and testimonies served as the sole basis of the search warrant, “the Court finds that probable cause was not sufficiently established.”

January 22, 2021 – 9:57am

A Brazilian court on Thursday ordered the lawmaker son of President Jair Bolsonaro to pay damages to a journalist after claiming she had "tried to seduce" a source to obtain compromising information about the far-right leader.

Deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro "attacked the honor" of journalist Patricia Campos Mello, "questioning the seriousness of her journalism and of her employer," the highly respected daily Folha de S.Paulo, the court said.

The 36-year-old was ordered to pay 30,000 reais ($5,600) in compensation for moral damage.

Eduardo Bolsonaro had claimed on YouTube last May that Campos Mello had tried to seduce an employee of a digital marketing company to obtain information.

He also claimed the award-winning journalist had been promoted for publishing false information. He then reiterated his statements on Twitter. — AFP

December 29, 2020 – 2:03pm

Fifty journalists and media workers were killed in connection with their work in 2020, most of them in countries that are not at war, Reporters Without Borders said in its annual report published Tuesday.

The figures show an increase in the "deliberate" targeting of reporters investigating organised crime, corruption or environmental issues, the watchdog said, highlighting murders in Mexico, India and Pakistan. — AFP

December 28, 2020 – 11:09am

A Chinese citizen journalist held since May for her livestream reporting from Wuhan as the Covid-19 outbreak unfurled was set for trial Monday, almost a year after details of an "unknown viral pneumonia" surfaced in the central China city.

Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer, could face up to five years in jail if convicted of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" for her reporting in the chaotic initial stages of the outbreak.

Her live reports and essays were widely shared on social media platforms in February, grabbing the attention of authorities, who have punished eight virus whistleblowers so far as they defang criticism of the government's response to the outbreak.

Around a dozen supporters and diplomats gathered outside Shanghai Pudong New District People's Court on Monday morning, but police pushed journalists and observers away from the entrance as the defendant and her lawyer arrived. —AFP

December 24, 2020 – 11:56am

A Colombian journalist who had covered organized crime died Wednesday two days after suffering multiple gunshot wounds in Cali, in the southwest of the country, his newspaper said.

"Felipe Guevara, our crime reporter, died this Wednesday afternoon after being injured in an attack on Monday evening," said the newspaper Q'hubo on its Twitter account.

Guevara, 27 had reported death threats to the police since 2017, Cali's mayor Jorge Ivan Ospina said at a press conference, where he offered a reward of up to $15,000 for any information on the killers.

Although police had initially denied the attack against Guevara was linked to his work as a reporter and photographer, Ospina said the authorities were studying "all possible hypotheses" as to the motives for the killing.

According to the Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP), Guevara had had to leave the neighborhood where he was fatally injured in 2017, following threats "after he had written about a criminal gang operating in this area." — AFP

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