Killings prompt SC to abolish heinous crimes courts

- Aurea Calica -
The Supreme Court has abolished the heinous crime courts as part of security measures in the face of continued killings of some colleagues in the judiciary.

In a two-page en banc resolution, the High Court also emphasized that judges could carry firearms without the need to secure permits from the Philippine National Police (PNP).

And when imminent threats to their lives arise, judges may seek additional escorts from the police or designate someone from their staff.

"In cases where a judge faces a direct threat on his life, he may report the same to the PNP which shall in turn immediately provide him with a police escort," the Supreme Court said.

The office of the court administrator (OCA) was authorized to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the PNP on granting such request.

The relatively low caseloads at heinous crime courts expose judges more to danger, the Supreme Court said.

"The current setup makes a heinous crime court judge easily identifiable, making him or her an easy prey to vindictive litigants," the high tribunal noted in revoking Administrative Order No. 104-96 dated Oct. 21, 1996, designating some regional trial courts as heinous crime courts pursuant to Batas Pambansa 129.

Heinous crimes will now be cognizable by all second level courts.

The Supreme Court earlier condemned the continued killings of judges, the latest victim being Judge Milnar Lammawin of Kalinga province.

Lammawin, the seventh judge murdered in a span of five years, was gunned down last Aug. 9 while he and his wife were buying bread from a bakery in Barangay Dagupan. He was regional trial court judge branch 25 of Tabuk, Kalinga.

The Supreme Court noted in its resolution that under Section 881 of the Revised Administrative Code, judges are among those not required to secure permits to carry firearms outside their residence.

Judges who are facing imminent danger have also been authorized to designate as escort one member of their staff like the sheriff or process server.

No designation will be made without the express consent of the concerned employee and prior approval of the OCA, the High Court said.

Further, the designation will only be for the duration of the period requested by the judge and subject to the guidelines that may be set by the OCA security committee for lower court judges.

The resolution requires the OCA to create such security committee.

There will also be orientation field seminars on personal security protection for incoming and incumbent judges. The seminar will be conducted under the auspices of the National Bureau of Investigation, the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Judicial Academy. It may also include court personnel like sheriffs or process servers who may be designated as escorts for judges.

The court employee tasked to serve as escort for a judge will be entitled to overtime pay of P100 per day when rendering a maximum of three hours of service on weekdays to start 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. An escort will receive P150 per day during weekends when rendering service from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Reports said Lammawin was returning to his car when two armed assailants shot him repeatedly. He died of nine gunshot wounds in the head and neck while in hospital. The suspects managed to escape.

Lammawin’s fellow judges in Cagayan Valley described the killing as "ruthless and barbaric."

The Philippine Judges Association in Region 2 urged the Supreme Court to bestow posthumous recognition to slain judges similar to what soldiers and policemen receive when they die while in the line of duty.

The other judges killed since 1999 were Celso Flores of Eastern Samar, Ariston Rubio of Ilocos Norte, Gaby Uson of Pangasinan, Pinera Biden of Apayao, Paterno Tiamson of Binangonan in Rizal and Voltaire Rosales of Batangas.

The Supreme Court lamented that most of these cases remain unsolved.

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