CA: Gov’t must show steps taken to probe extralegal killings, enforced disappearances
MANILA — The Court of Appeals has found the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and other security agencies “accountable” for the disappearance of 2 labor activists.
This, as heads of different government bodies insist they have no knowledge of the whereabouts of the two.
The CA Fifth Division on Friday issued a privilege of the writ of amparo in favor of activists Elizabeth "Loi" Magbanua and Alipio "Ador" Juat, members of Kilusang Mayo Uno who went missing shortly after attending a meeting in Valenzuela on May 3.
It also issued a permanent protective order in favor of the 2 and their families, which would prevent security and intelligence forces from conducting surveillance or going near them.
“Without any specific pronouncement on exact authorship and responsibility, declaring the respondents accountable for the enforced disappearance and continued disappearance of Elizabeth ‘Loi’ Magbanua and Alipio ‘Ador’ Juat,” the appellate court said in a 40-page ruling.
It also ordered them to hold “a comprehensive and exhaustive investigation” on the disappearance of the activists and to use “all technical and modern technological resources at its disposal to assist in locating their whereabouts and once and for all determine the truth behind their continued disappearance,” it added.
Family members of Loi and Ador sought the help of the high court in August to compel respondents -- the heads of the AFP, the Department of National Defense, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, and the Philippine Army, as well as the heads of the intelligence and civil-military operations units of the AFP — to surface the two.
They claimed that Ador was able to tell his daughters that he is being detained at Camp Aguinaldo while there was no information as to the where Loi was taken.
All the respondents denied having personal knowledge as to the abduction. Some claimed they were holding different positions at the time of the disappearance and that they inquired with their respective agencies about the case but received negative responses.
But for the CA, the respondents’ “sweeping denials” failed to show who and when the searches were made and how comprehensive and thorough these were to satisfy their obligation under the Rule on the Writ of Amparo.
Under the rule, state agents are required to exercise “extraordinary diligence” in the performance of their duties and cannot hide in the presumption of regularity in the performance of their functions.
“[R]espondents are public officials tasked with the specific duty to provide protection for all citizens. Hence, extraordinary diligence is required in the performance of their duties, and are forbidden from seeking refuge in the presumption of regularity in the performance of their official duties,” the CA said.
“Evidently, respondents failed to show the concrete steps they ostensibly took to locate Loi and Ador if only to refute respondent’s probable culpability which inaction borders on a dereliction of positive duty. Respondents likewise failed to dutifully ascertain who are responsible for the disappearance of Loi and Ador if only to free themselves from the frightening inference that State Forces have played a hand in their continued disappearance,” it added.
The appellate court reminded respondents of their duty to protect constitutional rights to life, liberty and security of citizens, which includes conducting effective probes and providing protection to victims of, or those threatened with, extralegal killings and enforced disappearances.
“Indeed, it is respondents’ primary and bounden duty to protect the State and its people including those whose advocacies involve safeguarding civil liberties regardless of the political divide they belong to.”
The decision came 10 days after the CA conducted a summary hearing to receive testimonies and evidence on the case.
The SC earlier issued a writ of amparo and a temporary protection order in favor of the petitioners while ordering the CA to conduct a hearing to resolve the case.
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Relatives of 2 allegedly abducted activists on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to issue a special protection order for their missing kin, encouraged by a recent Supreme Court ruling.
‘TOTALITY OF OBTAINING SITUATION’
Respondents tried to cast doubt on the involvement of state forces in the disappearance of the 2 activists by claiming that the testimony of Ador’s daughter, Maureen, was “hearsay.”
Maureen had told the court that his father was able to visit her sister in Cavite after their disappearance, where he confided that armed men abducted him and Loi on May 3.
He was supposedly taken to Camp Aguinaldo while he could not say if Loi was taken there since she was made to board a different vehicle.
But the appellate court called the argument “misplaced,” explaining that they consider the “totality of the obtaining situation” in deciding amparo cases.
Petitioners, it said, were able to show by substantial evidence that Loi and Ador are entitled to the issuance of the privilege of writ of amparo.
“The totality of petitioner’s evidence indicate that Loi and Ador are at the present time victims of enforced disappearance themselves. Loi and Ador were abducted and detained apparently by State forces, especially since Ador had relayed to Marielle that he is being detained at Camp Aguinaldo, the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” it said.
“While Ador did not see Loi at Camp Aguinaldo, the fact that he had conveyed to Marielle that Loi was abducted with him but forced inside a different vehicle on 3 May 2022, is indicative that Loi was also abducted and thereafter detained by who petitioners suspect were State forces,” it added.
CA Associate Justice Ronaldo Roberto Martin penned the ruling while associate justices Apolinario Bruselas, Jr. and Alfonso Ruiz II concurred.
Loi’s long-time partner, Ruth Manglalan, who is among the petitioners, is thankful for the ruling.
“I’m grateful for the CA's favorable decision, that the court decided to side with what is just. It's another step forward towards the fight to finding Loi,” she said in a statement.
“It's been four months since I last saw her. I miss her. I hope to find her soon and take her safely back home.”
Petitioner’s lawyer, Minnie Lopez, called the ruling a victory but said that “the fight continues.”
Gabriela Philippines echoed the call.
“With the Court of Appeals ruling justly in favor of our petition, we continue to call for immediate surfacing of Loi, Ador, and all EJAD (extrajudicial arrest and detention) victims. They must be immediately reunited safe and unharmed with their loved ones, and those responsible for their abduction must be duly punished and held to account. The AFP must come clean to the public and reveal who among them has been responsible for such heinous crimes,” it said.