MANILA, Philippines - An October 23 resolution of the Supreme Court brought discomfort but failed to temper the commemorative atmosphere during a lecture in Tagaytay last week.
It only seemed ironic to some of the guests in attendance that in just a few days, the country will commemorate anew the Maguindanao massacre, which led to the deaths of 58 civilians.
The SC released only on November 12, the resolution disallowing the live broadcast of the Maguindanao massacre trial due to a motion filed by primary accused Andal Ampatuan Jr.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Adolfo S. Azcuna took to the podium in Tagaytay that Monday and managed to refresh everyone’s minds that simple concepts can make or break society sans bullies.
When Azcuna – the father of “[writ of] Amparo” - talks, people listen.
Who or what is “Amparo” anyway? The concept has become an urban legend of sorts after Azcuna introduced it during the 1991 Bar Examinations.
He was then an examiner in Political Law and threw the question: “What is the writ of amparo and what, if any, is the basis for it in the Philippine Constitution?”
The question was actually the last question threw in for Political Law. Then-Chief Justice Hilario Davide (who was also present at the Tagaytay lecture) probably caught on with the humor and chose it as No. 1(A) question and mused that would-be lawyers should have wide knowledge of even esoteric terms.
Stumped, a perplexed examiner answered, “I dedicate this to many suffering Filipinos out there.” Another answered, “I don’t know, but our Father in Heaven, holy be your name…”
For their ingenuity, Azcuna gave students their credit and the much needed grade to bolster their chances of passing the Bar. Only about 20% of those who took the exam that year managed a correct answer.
But Azcuna has had a long affair with the “Amparo," starting from his early years as a lawyer.
Answer is in 1987 Constitution
A voracious reader, Azcuna actually first learned of the concept of the writ of amparo via an article in an international law journal by Mexican professor Hector Fiz Zamudio. The article described the assimilation of the writ of amparo, which came from the Spanish verb “amparar” or “to protect,” into the Mexican constitution granting judges the power to protect persons in the enjoyment of their rights.
At an early age of 32, Azcuna became one of the youngest delegates in the 1971 Constitutional Convention representing Zamboanga del Norte. This was where he first proposed the adoption of amparo “as a remedy to enforce the social and economic rights” of persons. He did not succeed.
It was only 15 years later that his perseverance bore fruit. He was one of the 48 members of the Constitutional Commission to draft the charter that would build a stronger foundation for democracy following the People Power revolt at EDSA in February 1986.
“This time, however, upon the sage counsel of the late Chief Justice Roberto C. Concepcion, I proposed to put it simply as among the powers of the Supreme Court in providing for the rules of court,” he said during his lecture.
Unknown to the 1991 Bar examinees, the concept was already incorporated in the 1987 Constitution. It is under Article VIII, Section 5, subsection 5 that gave the SC the power to: “Promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts, the admission to the practice of law, the integrated bar, and legal assistance to the under-privileged…”
Azcuna said that for over 20 years after that, and even when he first assumed his post in the SC, the magistrates still saw no need to exercise that power.
“Then in 2007, a spate of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances plagued the country. We were pilloried all over the world and the United Nations sent a special envoy to investigate the Philippine situation. As a result, the Supreme Court decided to act on the crisis. It designated a number of courts to try Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances,” Azcuna said.
The Chief Justice at that time, Renato Puno – another justice-activist – said the SC “leaned heavily on the foreknowledge of Justice Azcuna in drafting the rule on the writ.”
Some thought it was Puno who was the man behind the assimilation of amparo, but Puno himself credited Azcuna as “the father of amparo.”
Puno then called for an “unprecedented” National Consultative Summit on Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances to cull information from all stakeholders, and on October 24, 2007, United Nations Day, the Rule on Amparo was adopted.
Five years after
It doesn’t take one decision of the SC to lay the groundwork for people to understand the writ. Still, “the remedy of amparo has become a reality in our legal system and is no longer a theory or academic subject. It has been availed of by aggrieved parties who obtained reliefs under its procedure,” Azcuna said.
He cited the precedent-setting decision on October 7, 2008, which involves the Manalo brothers who sought protection after escaping from military detention.
Brothers Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo said they were captured and tortured for more than a year on suspicion they were members of the New People’s Army.
Azcuna said the “protective” mantle of the writ of amparo slowly grew into something more tangible in this case. In granting the brothers’ the writ of amparo, the SC said that while their “kidnapping” has already come to pass, they still live in fear for their lives not knowing that they could again be abducted, kept captive or even killed.
Azcuna noted that the right of security was also spelled out in the decision. “It is the duty of the state to provide security,” he said.
He also cited as another “landmark” decision the case of missing World Bank consultant Morced Tagitis, who allegedy was abducted by intelligence operatives in Jolo, Sulu in 2007.
The December 3, 3009 decision specifically noted that the writ of amparo “determines responsibility, or at least accountability for the enforced disappearance for purposes of imposing the appropriate remedies to address the disappearance.”
This was also where the usual response of simple denial can’t hold water, Azcuna added. “The public official can’t just claim regularity in his favor…The SC removed the presumption that the duty [of the official] was performed with extraordinary diligence.”
More work to be done
Asked how he would assess the level of stakeholders’ knowledge on the amparo, Azcuna said: “I would say there’s still much work to be done.”
He said it’s too bad that Ateneo Human Rights Center Executive Director Carlos “Chochoy” Medina, Jr. “suffered an aneurism and left unfinished his organization of a nationwide network of quick response centers for extralegal killings and enforced disappearances.”
He said someone should take up from where Medina left off. The Philippine Judicial Academy, where Azcuna is now chancellor, is also now initiating moves to explain the concepts to ordinary people via a help book for citizens, lawyers and the rest of civil society.
The government is also doing its part of the job, which includes the recent approval of a bill that would make involuntary or enforced disappearance a crime. The bill may lapse into law soon, with President Benigno Aquino III failing to sign the bill.
“So far, so good…The writ of amparo has graduated from realm of theory to the rank of available remedies. One life saved is already more than enough…,” Azcuna said.