Facing mounting pressure, SC moves to review rules and protective writs

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 12 2021 11:08 PM

Facing mounting pressure, SC moves to review rules and protective writs 1
Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief, Police General Guillermo Eleazar shows a unit of the body-worn camera (BWC) during its launch for police personnel held inside the Camp Crame in Quezon City on June 4, 2021. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

At a glance:

  • Rule on body-worn cameras in police service of warrants to come out in July
  • SC revising rules on criminal procedure which covers issuance, service of arrest and search warrants
  • Protective writs under review; drafting rule on writ of kalayaan ‘takes time’
  • Committee formed to look into reports on attacks, threats vs. lawyers and judges
  • Security measures provided to red-tagged judge
  • SC hopes law protecting judges will be passed during this Congress

MANILA — Two and a half months after coming out with a rare statement condemning killings of and threats against lawyers and judges, the Supreme Court on Friday said it was moving to review rules and protective writs and could come out with a rule on body-worn cameras as early as July.

“We’re working on it,” Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo told the media in a virtual briefing, referring particularly to revisions on the rules on the issuance and service of search and arrest warrants.

“We will be amending the rules on criminal procedures with respect to those provisions. And one of the things we are working on is the adoption of the rule on use of body-worn camera,” he said.

The call from various lawyers and rights groups for the Supreme Court to take a more proactive stance with regard to killings as a result of service of search and arrest warrants intensified with the killing of 9 activists in March in simultaneous pre-dawn raids in neighboring provinces outside Metro Manila.

Authorities claimed those who died fought back but witnesses and relatives of those killed refute the police narrative, saying they did not even have guns to begin with.

GESMUNDO: RULE ON BODY-WORN CAMERAS OUT BY JULY

Lawyers’ groups have written to the Supreme Court urging it to, among others, mandate the use by the police of body cameras in service of search and arrest warrants — an idea that was already brought up in the aftermath of the death a of teenager in a drug operation in 2017.

After a “long conversation” among magistrates, the high court in March said it was considering that proposal.

On Friday, Gesmundo said magistrates have submitted their inputs on the matter.

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“Hopefully and I’m optimistic that maybe after 2 or 3 deliberations we will come up with the final version…By July perhaps, we will have the final version and we’ll approve it for implementation immediately,” he said.

Without waiting for the Supreme Court’s guidelines, the Philippine National Police earlier this month launched the use of body-worn cameras in police operations.

REVISION OF RULES ON SEARCH AND ARREST WARRANTS

But it’s not just in the implementation of warrants that lawyers have expressed concern.

The very issuance of “weaponized” warrants by so-called “warrant factories” or judges who have been known to issue warrants en masse is among the biggest issues confronting the high court.

The issuance of either a search or arrest warrant, under the rules on criminal procedure, requires a judge to personally determine probable cause “after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses…”

The Bill of Rights under the 1987 Constitution states that the place to be searched has to be particularly described, in the case of a search warrant, or the persons or things to be seized.

Rights groups alleged there is little time to follow this requirement when judges issue dozens of warrants in a matter of days.

“The Court is very clear in our statement that with respect to issuance of arrest warrant or search warrant, our judges know the responsibility that they have to comply with what the Constitution and the Rules of Court should provide,” Gesmundo said.

The top magistrate did not provide additional details on what changes they will be introducing but among the proposed changes: do away with “wholesale” and “roving” warrants which could be served anywhere in the country, enforce warrants during office hours with body cameras, open access of police records to families and automatic review by the high court of cases involving deaths of those subject of the warrants.

REVIEWING PROTECTIVE WRITS; WRIT OF KALAYAAN TO TAKE TIME

In the same press briefing, Gesmundo also said they are now reviewing the writs of amparo and kalikasan and other protective writs issued by the high court in the exercise of its rule-making function.

A writ of kalikasan provides protection to the constitutional right to a healthy environment but the top magistrate said, a number of changes have taken place since it was adopted in 2010.

The writ of amparo, on the other hand, issued in 2007, provides protection to victims of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances, a remedy not found in the law nor in the Constitution, according to Gesmundo, but is within the constitutional mandate of the Supreme Court to protect fundamental rights.

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Rights group alliance Karapatan, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and other groups have failed to secure protection from the Court of Appeals due to lack of evidence to substantiate their claim that State agents were behind threats and attacks on their members.

Another remedy being proposed is the writ of kalayaan mentioned by Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen in his separate opinion in the petition of some detainees seeking to be released due to health concerns over the spread of the coronavirus in crowded detention facilities.

The Supreme Court referred that case to the respective trial courts handling their cases but Leonen suggested that the drafting of a rule providing for an “order of precedence” in releasing detainees to bring the occupation of jails to a more humane level.

But more than half a year since it was suggested, nothing has come out of the proposal, Kapatid support groups of detainees and political prisoners to repeatedly call on the high court to act.

Gesmundo explained it is not that easy.

“On the writ of the kalayaan, this is innovation which will obviously require a thorough study. You will know that writing the rules of procedure takes time because we have to consider a lot of factors before arriving in those or adopting those rules because we have to make sure that we do not deviate from what the Constitution requires or allow us to do consistent with what we may be allowed to adopt rules concerning the protection of Constitutional rights. We are also mandated that we must adopt rules within the parameters of our jurisdiction,” he said.

Former Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta had also said they are “very careful” in exercising the power to promulgate rules as it is a “rare” power exercised by the Philippine Supreme Court.

But Gesmundo gave an assurance the SC will issue the necessary rules, when exigencies require, to fulfill its mandate.

“Some may question the authority of the Court to promulgate those rules but again, under the mantle of the constitutional protection that we can adopt rules concerning the protection of constitutional rights, the Supreme Court will promulgate those rules when it find it necessary only that it must be within the parameters of the Constitution,” he said.

“Things change over time. And as I said earlier, the Court must be able to adapt to these changing times so when the circumstances should warrant for the Court to adopt this, I’m sure my colleagues will not hesitate to adopt those rules,” he added.

COMMITTEE FORMED TO STUDY THREATS, ATTACKS VS LAWYERS, JUDGES

Meanwhile, the SC magistrates have formed a committee to look into the reports of threats and attacks against lawyers and judges submitted by the various groups to the high court, following its call in March.

“Marami datos natanggap pero kailangan himayin ito upang maunawaan namin at saka lamang kami makapagbibigay ng aksyon. We will act on the results of those reports and recommendation within the jurisdiction of the Judiciary,” he said.

“If outside of the judiciary’s jurisdiction, then we would endorse them the results to the appropriate entity or institution of govt for them to address these issues. Pero nasisisguro ko sa inyo na ang Korte Suprema ay tinatalakay ito,” he added.

The high court took the unusual step of treating letters containing accounts of threats or attacks against lawyers and judges as a “complaint” they could look into.

That action came after a Mandaluyong judge became the subject of red-tagging in tarpaulins hung along EDSA, after she declared void the search warrants and acquitted a journalist and labor leader of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Gesmundo said security measures have been provided to Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio but he said they are still waiting for the report from the PNP as to who were responsible for the tarpaulins.

Efforts to safeguard judges and justices have been in the works for several years with a measure creating a judicial marshal system finally passing 3rd reading at the House of Representatives.

The bill will provide armed protection to magistrates through an independent and organized security force under the direct control and supervision of the Supreme Court.

It will be headed by a chief marshal with the same rank as a Supreme Court associate justice.

Marshals will be allowed to carry guns, make arrests and searches and have access to court records in the custody of any government agency.

“We are optimistic that once this approved bill from the lower House is sent to the Senate or the upper House, the Senate will act on it. Hopefully before the end of this current Congress, the Judicial Marshal bill shall be approved into law,” Gesmundo said.

The Free Legal Assistance Group said 61 lawyers, including judges, have been killed under the Duterte administration, more than under 6 previous presidents combined.

“It would be a big help if the legislative body passes that proposed bill because makikita natin kung paano buuin ang judicial marshal para matugunan nga ang sitwasyon ng ating mga mahistrado at empleyado ng korte na nalalagay sa situation ng threat or violence. Umaasa kami na ang legislature at executive ay ipapasa at lalagdaan ang batas na ito,” Gesmundo concluded.

(...because we will be able to see how to construct the judicial marshal and respond to the situation involving our magistrates and court employees who could be threatened by violence. We are hoping that our legislature and executive will pass this law.)