The Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra), a non-government organization that provides free legal service to farmers, fisherfolks, and indigenous peoples, hails the dismissal of the cases for illegal possession of firearms and explosives against three farmers Marcelo Vidal, July Jolongbayan, and Doroteo Bautista. They were arrested by the combined elements of the PNP and the military last May 10, 2020 in Barangay Coral ni Lopez, Calaca, Batangas during the enforcement of the search warrants issued on May 7, 2020 by the Executive Judge of RTC Santa Cruz, Laguna. Aside from them, three other farmers namely Leovino Jolongbayan, Virgilio Vidal, and Roilan Tenorio were also arrested on the same date and occasion. Leovino is barangay councilor while Virgilio is a barangay secretary of Barangay Coral Ni Lopez. The two are also leaders of Samahan ng Magsasaka sa Coral ni Lopez (SAMACOLO) while the four are its members.
After their arrest, the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Batangas filed cases for illegal possession of firearms and explosives against them at the Regional Trial Court of Balayan, Batangas. The cases of Marcelo, July, Doroteo, and Virgilio were then raffled to Branch 9 while the cases for Leovino and Roilan were raffled to Branch 10.
On July 8, 2020, the Branch 9 of RTC Balayan granted Marcelo, July, and Doroteo’s motion to quash the above-mentioned search warrants and ordered the dismissal of their cases. The said court ruled that there was no basis for the Executive Judge of RTC Santa Cruz, Laguna to issue the search warrants outside of its territorial jurisdiction. It also said that the search warrants are invalid as they failed to particularly state the address of the houses of the persons to be searched. It also declared that there was no probable cause to issue the search warrants as there is no evidence on record that before issuing them, the Executive Judge of RTC Santa Cruz, Laguna conducted searching questions of the police officer who was the applicant for the issuance of the warrants. RTC 9 Balayan thus ordered the suppression of the evidence supposedly seized during the search and declared them inadmisible. On those basis, it ordered the dismissal of the cases against the three farmers and their immediate release from jaill.
Meanwhile, the motion to quash the search warrants for the cases of Virgilio, Leovino and Roilan are still pending resolution. They are hoping, however, that their cases will also be dismissed because they have essentially the same facts and circumstances as the dismissed cases of their three companions.
Sentra served as the counsel for the farmers in those cases.