Lawyers ask SC to require more safeguards in service of warrants

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 17 2021 12:31 PM

Lawyers ask SC to require more safeguards in service of warrants 1
ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - A lawyer's group on Wednesday called on the high tribunal to provide additional safeguards in the implementation of warrants aside from requiring law enforcers to wear body cameras.

Lawyer Rey Cortez, secretary general of National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, welcomed that the Supreme Court magistrates were considering a proposal requiring law enforcers to wear body cameras to prevent abuses in the service of warrants.

"But of course, it's a complex issue. Wearing of a body cam will only solve a part of the problem," he told ANC. "What NUPL wants is the Supreme Court should include in its resolution safeguards, in addition to just simply wearing body cams."

The human rights lawyer noted that law enforcers were "very creative" when they enforced warrants.

Based on his experience, law enforcers would barge into a house, herd the occupants into a separate place and conduct the search.

A second search is conducted with the presence of witnesses such as village officials where "usually they find alleged firearms and explosives," Cortez said.

"If first they will not wear body cameras, hindi natin makikita 'yong mga planting of evidence at sa mga irregularities doon sa pagpasok palang," he added.

(... we will not see the planting of evidence and other irregularities even when they enter a place.)

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The lawyers' group also raised concern about the manner the warrants were issued.

The Philippine Constitution and the Rules of Court require judges to personally determine if there is probable cause to issue arrest or search warrants after examining the complainant and witnesses under oath.

"Hindi ito isang subpoena (This is not a subpoena) that you can issue as a matter of fact, as a matter of procedure," he said. "This is a process you issue that will authorize law enforces to intrude into the privacy of individuals, which is an exception to the constitutional right to privacy."

Human rights and lawyers’ groups have long raised the issue of courts acting as “warrant factories” issuing multiple search warrants in a day or two.

Cortez was reacting to a statement from the Supreme Court that the police applied for 72 search warrants for the raids on March 7 that eventually became a “Bloody Sunday” in Calabarzon.

The police and military implemented 24 search warrants in Cavite, Batangas and Rizal that left 9 activists dead and 3 others arrested.

Among those killed were Manny Asuncion, coordinator of activist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Cavite, and fisherfolk leaders Chai Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista in Batangas.

Activists and rights groups have accused the Philippine government of “weaponizing” search warrants against alleged communist rebels.