SC RULING ON DAVAO DEATH SQUAD

PNP can search quarry for bodies

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TWO YEARS AGO, the existence of the “Davao Death Squad” or DDS was enrolled and confirmed in the dockets of the Supreme Court.

In a decision issued on Nov. 9, 2014, the Supreme Court’s First Division upheld the grant of a search warrant to uncover the bones of six victims who, on the testimony of a first-hand witness, the DDS had killed and buried at the Laud Quarry in Davao City in 2005.

The ruling offers a new window of opportunity for the police and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to now resume their investigation into the DDS.

The application for a search warrant was filed by the Philippine National Police (PNP) through Senior Supt. Roberto Fajardo, then head of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG). Fajardo was named acting deputy director of the Northern Police District in July.

However, Jackie de Guia, CHR Director for Strategic Communications, said she was not aware of the high court’s ruling.

Curiously, among the lawyers of retired SPO4 Bienvenido Laud who questioned the search warrant was Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd, now the justice secretary.

Last week, Aguirre said the bodies found in the Laud property years ago were executed during the Japanese occupation.

But it was not Edgar Matobato, the self-confessed hitman of the DDS, who served as key witness in the case at the Supreme Court. It was Edgar Avasola, who said he helped bury six bodies at the quarry owned by Laud.

On July 6, 2009, a CHR team entered the quarry in Ma-a, Davao City, by virtue of a search warrant issued by Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Romulo Lopez.

Since the search warrant did not cover other parts of the Laud property, the CHR team applied for but was denied another search warrant by a Davao City judge, forcing them to get one from Manila.

On July 12, 2009, armed with a search warrant Judge William Simon P. Peralta had issued two days earlier, then CHR Chairperson Leila de Lima visited the quarry with the rest of her team.

But Peralta revoked the warrant after 13 days.

Another Laud lawyer, Victorio Advincula, had filed an urgent motion to quash the search warrant that allowed the CHR team entry into the area, which had been converted into a firing range. The quarry site yielded a few leg bones, skull parts, and license plates.

Aguirre had also argued that courts in Manila have “no territorial jurisdiction over the place where the alleged offense was committed.”

No criminal action has yet been filed against his client, Aguirre said, and “clearly, any application for a search warrant should be filed only with the judge within whose territorial jurisdiction the crime was committed.”

The PNP filed a motion to quash the revocation of Judge Peralta’s search warrant. When this was denied, it filed a motion for reconsideration on Dec. 8, 2009.

CA upholds warrant

Undaunted, the PNP pressed on and filed a petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals.

On April 25, 2011, the CA “granted the People’s petition and thereby annulled and set aside the Orders of the Manila-RTC for having been tainted with grave abuse of discretion.”

In the case of heinous crimes such as murder, the CA said law enforcement agencies have every right in the law to secure search warrants.

Too, the CA found that “probable cause was established since, among others, witness Avasola deposed and testified that he personally witnessed the murder of six (6) persons in December 2005 and was actually part of the group that buried the victims – two bodies in each of the three (3) caves.”

The CA also debunked Laud’s claim of forum shopping by the PNP, citing that “the prior application for a search warrant filed before the Davao-RTC was based on facts and circumstances different from those in the application filed before the Manila-RTC.”

Laud and his lawyers then moved for reconsideration on Oct. 17, 2011, this time before the Supreme Court.
But the high court’s First Division found Laud’s petition to have “no merit.”

At the time, the First Division was composed of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Jr. Teresita J. Leonardo-de Castro, Jose Portugal Perez, and Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe.

The division issued the decision per curiam — in the name of the Court rather than by specific judges, hence the name of the ponente or author was not disclosed.

Malou Mangahas, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

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