Mandaluyong court junks case vs. Lady Ann Salem, union organizer

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 5) — A Mandaluyong court has junked the case against a journalist and a union organizer who were arrested for alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives last December.

The Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court Branch 209 on Friday dismissed the case against Lady Ann Salem, an editor of alternative media outfit Manila Today and communications officer of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television, and union organizer Rodrigo Esparago.

In a previous statement, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group–National Capital Region said the two were arrested as part of its campaign against loose firearms and criminal groups.

Police said they seized handguns, grenades, and ammunition, among others from Salem. An armalite, pistols, and ammunition were seized from Esparago.

Presiding judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio argued the law enforcers' search warrant was declared void for being vague after they failed to seize only those items listed in the warrant.

Instead of only one laptop and one unit of cellphone, the law enforcers took four laptops and five cellphones of different brands.

"The raiding team did not limit themselves to the items listed in the Search Warrants... The seizure of these items is unlawful as even the 'plain view doctrine' is clearly inapplicable to these cases," the order read.

The court also found substantial inconsistencies and contradictions in the testimonies of informant Kharl Lou Dela Cruz Geronimo, Patrolman Ernie Ambuyoc, and Police Captain Michael Nathaniel Visco.

"Since the sole basis of the issuance of the Search Warrants were their sworn statements and testimonies, the Court finds that probable cause was not sufficiently establish," it said.

Several groups denounced Salem's arrest, calling it another attempt to silence free press.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines previously noted that Manila Today was one of the alternative media outfits red-tagged in a recent Senate hearing.

"Icy's (Salem) arrest is proof this administration is bent on silencing the independent and critical Philippine media so it can manipulate the flow of information to the detriment of our people and of our democracy," the NUJP said.