Tell it to SunStar: 2 judges’ bid for Court of Appeals post

SunStar Tell it
SunStar Tell it

By Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay

We denounce the bids of two controversial Regional Trial Court (RTC) judges for higher posts in the judiciary.

The two judges -- Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert of Quezon City RTC Branch 84 and Jason Zapanta of Manila RTC Branch 174 -- who were scheduled to be interviewed by the Judicial and Bar Council on Wednesday, June 5, 2024, issued spurious search warrants that led to the deaths and arrests of scores of activists.

Villavert, dubbed the “search warrant factory,” issued numerous questionable search warrants that led to the arrest and filing of trumped-up charges against 76 activists from 2018 to 2020.

Zapanta, on the other hand, issued two of the search warrants targeting 24 individuals in Rizal, Batangas, Cavite and Laguna that led to the March 7, 2021 killing of nine Southern Tagalog activists, in what is now known as “Bloody Sunday.” Six activists were likewise arrested in the regionwide dragnet conducted by police and military elements. Zapanta was responsible for issuing the search warrant that justified the early morning raid on the house of activist couple Ana Mariz and Ariel Evangelista, who were both killed, and whose killers have been exonerated in a showcase investigation by the Department of Justice.

Warrants issued by both Villavert and Zapanta have been quashed on the bases of various deficiencies, including lack of probable cause in the application of the search warrant due to disparities in fact and other anomalies. Both judges had been assailed for falling short of the required probing and exhaustive inquiry for the determination of probable cause, prompting human rights organizations to demand accountability for judges who “haphazardly” issue search warrants.

Many of the cases that arose from the implementation of the Villavert- and Zapanta-issued warrants have been dismissed on their merits and the targeted activists released.

Nonetheless, there are activists who still languish in jail because of the capricious issuance of search warrants by these judges, including ailing and elderly activists Vicente Ladlad, Alberto and Virginia Villamor who are detained at Camp Bagong Diwa.

Neither Villavert nor Zapanta possess the needed competence, integrity, probity and independence to serve as justices of the Court of Appeals.

We urgently call on the Judicial and Bar Council to seriously consider the facts that have been presented against Judges Villavert and Zapanta and immediately disqualify them from the positions they are applying for.

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