Group to Judicial Council: Remember Baby River

Judges Villavert and Zapanta ‘legally and morally unfit’

Political prisoner support group Kapatid asked the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to remember the death of infant River Nasino in its deliberations for the application of controversial judges vying for higher positions in the judiciary.

In a letter to the JBC, Kapatid pressed for the disqualification of Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert and Manila RTC Judge Jason Zapanta for “legal and moral unfitness” because of their “fundamental violations of justice, fairness, and respect for human rights that form the bedrock of our legal system and moral law.”

Kapatid cited the search warrant Villavert issued for the arrest of then 23-year old Reina Mae Nasino with fellow activists Ram Carlo Bautista and Alma Moran on the night of November 5, 2019 at Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)-Manila’s office in Tondo.

Nasino, who was then several months pregnant, gave birth in prison Kapatid said were “conditions far from humane” for both her and her baby daughter.

“Six weeks after giving birth, jail authorities forcibly separated Reina Mae and Baby River, weaning the infant off breastfeeding at the time when she most needed the natural immunity and sustenance that only her mother could provide,” Kapatid said in its protest letter.

The infant was born with low birth weight due to her mother’s lack of prenatal care and poor nutrition while in detention, the group said.

Baby River failed to thrive, contracted a life-threatening pulmonary disease, and passed away soon after.

Reina Mae’s visit at her daughter’s wake was significantly cut short by her prison guards despite a Court order allowing her several hours to grieve.

The infant’s internment at the Manila North Cemetery also went viral online and gathered international condemnation after prison authorities ran away with her remains and left her grieving family to run after the funeral convoy.

WATCH: River of Tears and Rage

“Reina Mae Nasino’s heartbreaking tragedy highlights the profound human cost of Judge Burgos-Villavert’s judicial decisions that disregard the fundamental rights and dignity of individuals. Her inexcusable actions have resulted in unnecessary suffering and the loss of an innocent life, reflecting her moral unfitness to be a Justice of the Court of Appeals,” Kapatid said.

Nasino, Bautista and Moran were later on freed after the Supreme Court found Villavert’s non-compliance with specificity requirement on the failure of the issuing court to thoroughly examine the applicant and his witnesses by propounding “probing and exhaustive” questions.

READ: Nasino’s lawyer hopes for her immediate release

Human rights activists protesting the nomination of the two controversial judges applying for higher positions in the judiciary. (Photo by N. Bacarra/Kodao)

Judicial massacre

Kapatid said Villavert should not be appointed to any higher position in the judiciary, saying “[her] tenure as Quezon City Executive Judge was nothing short of a judicial massacre, where the halls of justice were transformed into a grotesque theater of state-sanctioned oppression.”

The group said that under the judge’s watch, the courtroom became a ‘warrant factory,’ churning out judicial warrants like assembly line products, each one a weapon that grievously disrupted the lives of at least 76 persons. Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said in her letter.

“Reina Mae Nasino’s heartbreaking tragedy highlights the profound human cost of Judge Burgos-Villavert’s judicial decisions that disregard the fundamental rights and dignity of individuals. Her inexcusable actions have resulted in unnecessary suffering and the loss of an innocent life, reflecting her moral unfitness to be a Justice of the Court of Appeals,” said Kapatid.

“The consequences of Villavert’s actions continue to reverberate through the lives of her victims,” Lim added, citing the case of her husband, 75-year old peace consultant Vicente Ladlad, and his companions Alberto Villamor, 67, and Virginia Villamor, 69.

“Vic, Al and Bebot continue to be deprived of liberty for over five years now. They are getting older and sicker by the day as a result of her search warrant that became the basis for planting a trove of firearms and explosives, a non-bailable offense to keep them in indefinite detention,” said Lim.

She noted that the JBC cannot ignore in its decision-making that various courts including the Supreme Court have already vindicated 69 of Villavert’s 76 victims when they invalidated her warrants for glaring factual and legal infirmities.

Villavert’s warrant was also used in the arrest of 57 activists, workers and a journalist in Bacolod City on October 31, 2019.

Her orders were issued after a so-called dialogue with then National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Acting Director Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas in her chambers hours before composite police and military teams conducted their raids in Bacolod.

“[W]e appeal to this Honorable Council [JBC] to reconsider the nomination and appointment of Judge Cecilia Burgos-Villavert to any higher position within the judiciary. Her track record reflects a pattern of decisions that undermine the very principles of justice, fairness, and respect for human rights, which form the bedrock of our legal system and moral law.

READ: Former political detainee seeks judge’s disqualification from higher posts

Human rights activists protesting the nomination of the two controversial judges applying for higher positions in the judiciary. (Photo by N. Bacarra/Kodao)

On Wednesday, June 5, various groups held a protest rally at the Supreme Court in Manila in time for Villavert’s interview by the JBC regarding her application.

Aside from Villavert, the activists are also asking the JBC to reject Manila RTC Judge Jason Zapanta.

Another controversial applicant

Kapatid said that Zapanta issued the search warrant used by the police to arrest Bayan-Batangas leader Erlindo “Lino” Baez for alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

The charge is the standard offense activists are accused of by the police and the military.

Tanauan Batangas RTC however voided Zapanta’s warrant and ordered Baez’s release, noting that a search warrant must always comply with constitutional requirements.

“The Judicial and Bar Council has the solemn duty to ensure that only those with the highest standards of integrity, competence, and commitment to justice are elevated within the judiciary. Appointing Judge Burgos-Villavert and Judge Zapanta to a higher judicial position would not only perpetuate a grave miscarriage of justice but also erode public trust in our judicial institutions,” said Kapatid.

“We implore the Judicial and Bar Council to give due consideration to the serious concerns we have raised and to act in the best interest of justice and the rule of law,” Kapatid said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

CA reverses conviction of KMU union organizer

By Joseph Cuevas

The 10th Division of the Court of Appeals (CA) has reversed the decision of two trial courts in Rizal province convicting a labor union organizer of possession of illegal firearms.

In a 18-page decision released last September 15, the CA voided the conviction of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) labor organizer Marklen Maojo Maga by San Mateo Regional Trial Court Branches (RTC) 75 and 76, sentencing him from 8 to 14 years imprisonment.

The May 16, 2019 decision by San Mateo RTC 76 Judge Josephine Zarate-Fernandez and the January 21, 2020 resolution by San Mateo RTC 75 by Judge Maria Beatrice Cunanan are set aside for failure of the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt Maga’s guilt, Kapatid, families and supporters political prisoners, announced Saturday, September 18.

Maklen Maojo Maga (Kilusang Mayo Uno photo)

The appellate court ordered Maga’s immediate release in connection with the illegal firearms possession charge.

Arrested by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police on February 22, 2018, Maga was nabbed for his alleged involvement in a government soldier’s murder in March 2017.

The arrest warrant against the union organizer was issued by Branch 34 of the Cabadbaran RTC in Agusan del Norte.

In its decision, the CA said the prosecution failed to present absolute proof the bag containing a gun belonged to the accused.

The appellate court also said the Rizal courts took as gospel truths the testimonies of the arresting officers despite inconsistencies.

The higher court also said the RTCs denied Maga the right to present additional witnesses to corroborate his testimony.

Initial victory

Maga’s wife Eleanor de Guzman told Kodao that the CA decision is a hard-fought victory, but a bittersweet triumph as the labor organizer still faces a criminal charge in Cabadbaran City.

Maga remains detained at the Metro Manila District Jail Annex 4 in Taguig City.

In a message posted on Facebook by de Guzman, Maga said he warmly welcomes his exoneration and considers it as a victory for all activists persecuted by the government.

“Unionists and activists are charged with trumped-up cases and manufactured evidence so they can jail and silence us and prevent us from our advocacies. Our imprisonment is the result of abuse of power and wrongful conviction by some courts who fail to truly study the cases before them,” Maga wrote in Filipino.

Maga added that the CA decision would greatly help in his defense against the murder charge in Agusan del Norte, a province he has never set foot in. #

Karapatan lauds affirmation of Palparan’s conviction

Human rights group Karapatan welcomed the affirmation of retired Major General Jovito Palparan’s conviction for the kidnapping of University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno by the Court of Appeals last Tuesday.

“This recent legal victory affirms the need to pursue justice and accountability through and through — despite threats, harassment, reprisals, and patronage by those in power of these human rights violators,” the group in a statement said.

In a decision promulgated last May 31 by Court of Appeals (CA) First Division, the appellate court said Palparan and cohorts Lieutenant Colonel Felipe Anotado and Staff Sgt. Edgardo Osorio are sentenced to life imprisonment without eligibility of parole.

The three were also ordered to pay the families of the victims P300,000 in civil indemnity and moral damages, subject to six percent interest per year from the date of finality of the decision until full payment.

The CA affirmed Malolos Regional Trial Court Branch 15’s decision of September 2018 saying Palparan, Anotado and Osorio were responsible for the disappearance and serious illegal detention of the victims.

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Cadapan and Empeno remain missing to this day. Palparan meanwhile has started serving his 40-year imprisonment at the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa City.

Karapatan said the affirmation of Palparan’s conviction could not have been possible without the strength and perseverance of the victim’s parents and the witnesses, as well as their lawyers and various local and international support groups.

“Sadly, Karen and She, along with many other desaparecidos remain missing, and Palparan should be made to divulge their whereabouts. This struggle for justice is for them and many other victims of State terrorism,” Karapatan said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)