Amid calls for review, judges urged to be prudent in issuing search warrants

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Amid calls for review, judges urged to be prudent in issuing search warrants
On International Human Rights Day, several rights groups held a rally to call for the release of all political prisoners in the country.
Karapatan / released

MANILA, Philippines — Amid calls for a probe into courts accused of being “warrant factories,” the Philippine Bar Association urges judges to be prudent in allowing law enforcement agencies to enter people's homes.

The PBA, the oldest voluntary organization of Filipino lawyers, noted that recent media reports give the impression that a “particular court [is] single-handedly responsible for issuing tens of search warrants targeting a particular group of citizens.”

This statement came amid mounting calls to investigate the issuance and implementation of search warrants signed by Quezon City Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert.

The PBA reminded judges that the Constitution guarantees the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures.

"No search warrant shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by a judge after examination under oath or affirmation or the complainant and his witnesses," the PBA said.

RELATED: Firearms and explosives raps easy way to lock activists up, NUPL says

“Thus, our courts act as our people’s shield against unwarranted searches and seizures. As such, judges must be deliberate, circumspect and prudent in the discharge of this constitutional duty,” they added.

The lawyers’ group added that the Supreme Court has investigated and sanctioned judges who have taken their responsibilities lightly. “We must remain confident that our [SC] will remain vigilant and continue to safeguard our people’s Constitutional rights,” they added.

RELATED: 'Human Rights Day 7' had no use for guns or grenades, family and friends say

Calls for probe

Members of the Makabayan bloc at the House and rights groups called on the Judiciary to review the issuance and implementation of search warrants that led to the arrest of several activists—the latest of whom are six trade union organizers and a journalist nabbed on Human Rights Day.

The arrests also happened amid spate of killings of those who were red-tagged or accused of links to communist rebels.

RELATED: Negros doctor said to be on vigilante hit list killed alongside husband

Progressive groups have noted that Burgos-Villavert also issued the search warrants that resulted in arrests of dozens of activists in Negros and Manila in 2019.

The leftist lawmakers of the lower chamber have also filed a resolution calling for a legislative probe into the matter.

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta issued the same reminder to judges in 2019 amid the arrests of members of Bayan, Bayan Muna, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Karapatan, Gabriela, the National Federation of Sugar Workers and Negros Island Health Integrated Program after the police implemented search warrant issued by Burgos-Villavert in their offices.

READ: Amid Bacolod arrests, SC reminds justices to 'be prudent' in issuing warrants

The SC however has yet to respond to the recent calls for probe.

'Insist on fairness'

The PBA, also called on their colleagues and the public to express confidence in the government system “by insisting on fairness even to those who seek to subvert it.”

“If we are to defend against the erosion of the values of our democratic society, we should all stand guard and make sure that justice is rendered with an even hand even to those perceived as enemies of the State by the government of the day,” they said.

“Justice must remain blind and her scales always balanced. Because a crusade to prove our democratic system is better than what others seek to impose, we cannot discard its most central tenet—that the Rule of Law applies to all, or we will have none at all,” the lawyers’ group added.

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