Court of Appeals rules in favor of activist in illegal possession of firearms case

·Contributor
·5 min read
The Court of Appeals (CA) has ruled in favor of activist and labor organizer Maoj Maga in the illegal possession of firearms and live ammunition case. (Photos: Lengua De Guzman/Facebook)
The Court of Appeals (CA) has ruled in favor of activist and labor organizer Maoj Maga in the illegal possession of firearms and live ammunition case. (Photos: Lengua De Guzman/Facebook)

Another “fruit of a poisonous tree” case was junked by the Court of Appeals (CA) as it overturned the conviction of activist and labor organizer Marklen Maojo “Maoj” Maga for cases of illegal possession of firearms and live ammunition.

In a decision dated September 15 but was released on Friday (September 16), the CA said that the prosecution in Criminal Case No. 20022 failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused-appellant and that it is voiding the earlier conviction ruling of the San Mateo, Rizal Regional Trial Court (RTC).

The decision was penned by CA Associate Justice Jaime Caringal.

Maga, who is now spending his fourth year in jail, was arrested while watching a basketball game inside a subdivision in San Mateo, Rizal on February 22, 2018, when 10 policemen arrested him based on an arrest warrant issued by an Agusan del Norte Court.

The police claimed that when he tried to escape, they allegedly found in his backpack a .45-caliber pistol and 7 live ammunition.

Decision

The tenth division of the CA ruled that “a warrantless search cannot be made in a place other than the place of arrest. In effect, the place of arrest should be in close temporal proximity to where the police conducted the search.”

The CA also said that the conduct of a warrantless search and seizure is to protect officers from being harmed by those that may have with them a lethal weapon or to enable them from destroying evidence, both of which are absent in the case of Maga.

“The arresting officers did not testify that they searched the bag out of concern for the safety of themselves. In addition, they did not claim that they searched the bag to prevent the accused-appellant from destroying evidence and, in any event, the facts do not support such a claim. Rather, the arresting officers testified that the accused-appellant was not in possession of a weapon, that the defendant cooperated, and failed to cite any violent resistance to the placing of handcuffs on Maga, or the removal of his backpack,” the CA said.

“It bears to reiterate that when the search of the backpack was conducted, the accused-appellant had already been handcuffed and no apparent danger could be inferred from the testimony of the arresting officers. Clearly, there were not circumstances leading to the arrest of Maga that would support a reasonable belief that he may gain possession of a weapon or be able to destroy evidence,” the CA added.

Associate Justices Ramon Cruz and Louis Acosta concurred with the 18-page decision and ordered Maga’s immediate release.

However, with the Agusan murder case still pending, Maga still cannot be freed.

Reaction

Maga’s wife, Eleanor de Guzman, shared in a Facebook post her initial reaction to the CA ruling.

She said that she was able to learn the news while at the UP Diliman campus and that although the ruling gave her relief, there’s still the fact that Maga is still in prison.

“I was crying while walking under the trees of UP. They were not tears of joy. What we have been through all these years came back to me. There is relief, yes, but at the same time, there is the reality that Maoj is not yet a free man,” De Guzman said.

“Maoj and I warmly welcome the Court of Appeals decision granting our Appeal. It is an initial victory – one that is bitter sweet. It is a battle hard fought, but the fight is not yet over,” she added.

She also shared a statement made by Maga from prison.

Ang pagpapawalang-sala at pagtutuwid na ito ng CA sa maling paghusga sa akin ay maituturing na tagumpay hindi lamang sa akin kundi para sa iba pang mga bilanggong politikal na biktima ng mga iligal na aresto, di makatarungang pagkakulong at iba pang paglabag sa karapatang pantao,” Maga said.

(This exoneration by the CA of the wrongful accusation against me can be considered a victory not just for me but for all political prisoners who have been illegally arrested, unjustly detained, and whose human rights were violated.)

He also shared the hardships that his family went through with his arrest, with his son, Li Boy, only eight years old at the time he was arrested in 2018.

Umiyak siya nang malaman ang desisyon [ng San Mateo RTC] at sinabing ‘unfair nung Judge!’ Dinala niya ang bigat na ito sa murang edad,” Maga said.

(He cried when he learned of the guilty conviction of the San Mateo RTC and said, “the judge was unfair!” He carried that weight at a young age.)

Hangad naming makamit pa rin ang hustisya hindi lang para sa akin at aming pamilya, maging sa iba pang mga bilanggong politikal, mga dinukot at pinaslang na mga aktibista, at mamamayang inaatake at pilit na pinapatahimik ng estado,” Maga added.

(We hope to get justice not just for our family, but also for other political prisoners, activists that were detained and murdered, and the people who have been attacked and silenced by the state.)

Calls for release

Kapatid, a support group for friends and families of political prisoners, welcomes the decision and is asking the courts to take a harder look at cases against activists.

“The new CA decision is highly significant is it not only reverses the conviction of an activist and reasserts the primacy of constitutional protection from illegal searches and seizures. But it is also the latest decision in a series of court wins against former President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on dissent and activism that should prompt all judicial courts to likewise take a longer, harder look at all government cases against activists in their docket, especially illegal possession of firearms and explosives that were in fact planted, making them, as court after court is now stating, ‘the proverbial fruits of a poisonous tree.’ They should be dismissed,” Kapatid’s spokesperson, Fides Lim, said.

“It should likewise be obvious that [the Agusan] murder case is just as fabricated as the illegal possession of firearms in order to criminalize activists like him. How long should Maoj wait for the dismissal of this case before his family can be whole again while the best years of his youth pass by?” Lim added.

Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments on politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @marvs30ang for latest news and updates. The views expressed are his own.

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