Elderly human rights worker arrested during Bloody Sunday freed after 16 months

·3 min read
Human rights worke Nimfa Lanzanas. (Photo: Tinay Palabay/Facebook)
Human rights worke Nimfa Lanzanas. (Photo: Tinay Palabay/Facebook)

Human rights worker Nimfa Lanzanas was finally freed after Calamba Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 37 in Laguna granted her demurrer to evidence, her lawyer Atty. Josa Deinla of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said.

Lanzanas, who was arrested on March 7, 2021 during the so-called Bloody Sunday operation of the police and military in Calabarzon, walked free after 16 months in detention on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Presiding Judge Caesar Buenagua of Calamba RTC Branch 37, in an 18-page ruling, granted Lanzanas’ demurrer motion, meaning an outright dismissal of the case, and immediately ordered her release from prison.

Validity of the search warrant questioned

Lanzanas claims that the search warrant used to raid the place where she was was not even covered by the search warrant issued by Manila Executive Judge Jason Zapanta, adding that the raiding team had also planted guns and other explosives which were allegedly recovered during the operation.

Meanwhile, the court said in the ruling that the “police conducting the search failed to observe the strict procedures laid down by the rules in the implementation of the search warrant.”

“[T]he service and implementation of search warrants does not give authorities limitless discretion in implementing the same as the same Rules provides parameter in the proper conduct of a search,” the court further explained.

Contradicting statements from the raiding team

The court also took note of the contradicting testimonies of two police officers from the raiding team who claimed that they were conducting searches in Lanzanas’ home in different places simultaneously.

Although they maintained that they had complied with the rules and Lanzanas was with them during the conduct of the search, the court said it “finds it precarious to say that the accused was with both of them when they are conducting the search simultaneously.”

Meanwhile, Lanzanas’ lawyers, led by Atty. Deinla, said that the inability of the prosecution to produce a witness in the application of the search warrant is a “deliberate falsehood” on the part of the prosecution, of which the court agreed.

“The unavailability and or the apparent reluctance of these witnesses to appear and testify damages the case sufficient to create reasonable doubt for the acquittal of the accused,” the court said.

The court finally said that the “irregularities” and “unreasonableness” of the conduct of the search in the house of the accused are the “fruits of the poisonous trees,” and then ruled to exclude as evidence the alleged weapons and other items seized during the said operation.

“Without this exclusionary rule, the constitutional right would be so ephemeral and so neatly severed from its conceptual nexus with the freedom from all brutish means of coercing evidence,” the court said.

‘Free political prisoners’

Human rights group Karapatan, in a statement, welcomes the release of Lanzanas, or ‘Nay Nima’ as they call her, and blasts the government’s weaponization of search warrants to target human rights workers and activists.

“The nefarious use of search warrants, planted evidence and deliberate falsehoods have been repeatedly justified by the [National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict] despite overwhelming evidence of violations on the rights to due process and against arbitrary arrests and detention,” the group said.

They likewise called for the immediate release of other human rights workers currently detained, and other political prisoners.

“We demand the release of all 802 political prisoners, 592 of them arrested under Duterte. We demand the end to the attacks including judicial harassment against our human right workers in the government’s failed attempts to stop us from doing our work and advocacy and to suppress political dissent,” Karapatan further said.

Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments in politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. The views expressed are his own.

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