An urban poor organizer and a women’s rights activist were acquitted on Wednesday, Nov. 24, of charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Acquitted in a decision handed down by Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Marlo A. Magdoza Malagar were Michael T. Bartolome and Cora M. Agovida.
Judge Malagar ruled that the prosecution failed “to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”
Bartolome and Agovida were arrested in their apartment in Manila on Oct. 31, 2019 by operatives of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on the basis of the search warrant issued by Quezon City RTC Judge Celilyn E. Burgos Villabert. The police said they recovered two handguns and two grenades from them.
“In sum, the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt Bartolome’s and Agovida’s ownership and possession of the firearms, ammunition and explosives and their lack of license to own or possess them. Thus, it failed to overcome the presumption of innocence which the accused enjoy. This court is thus constrained to render a judgment of acquittal,” Judge Malagar ruled.
The judge explained that “several circumstances obtain in this case cast reasonable doubt to the prosecution’s claim that the firearms, ammunitions, and explosives were found in the possession of Bartolome and Agovida, during the implementation of the search warrants.”
Among these, the court said, “the searching team violated the ‘knock and announce’ principle, which requires the officers implementing a search warrant to give accused notice, show to him their authority, and demand that they be allowed entry.”
“The testimonies of the prosecution witnesses are riddled with inconsistencies on a material point, i.e., the exact locations where the firearms and hand grenades were recovered, that affect the very element of the offense charged which is possession,” the court said.
It pointed out that “the chain of custody in handling the confiscated firearms and hand grenades was not duly established.”
“None of the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) members were named, much less testified before this Court, to explain what they did when they first entered the room.” It said.
It also said that the prosecution “failed to prove that Bartolome and Agovida had no license to possess or own any firearm, which negative fact may be established by the testimony or certification of a representative of the PNP Firearms and Explosives Unit that the accused has no license or permit to possess the subject firearm or explosive.”
“On a final note, the irregularities in the implementation of the search warrants, evident from the prosecution’s evidence itself, brings the Court back to Bartolome and Agovida’s protestation at the very onset of these cases — that the application and issuance of the search warrants were improper and had no bases,” Judge Malagar said.
“It is a matter of judicial notice that the application and implementation of search warrants are susceptible to abuse, a number had even resulted in death under disputed circumstances, that these judicial orders had been dubbed by some as ‘death warrants,’” the judge added.
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