SC urged to issue safeguards to prevent 'abuse of law' vs progressives

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
SC urged to issue safeguards to prevent 'abuse of law' vs progressives
Leaders and members of progressive groups and activists' kin on Tuesday filed a report before the Supreme Court detailing incidents where they said the rule of law has been weaponized against them.
JUCRA pool photo

MANILA, Philippines — Human rights defenders and the families of detained or killed activists on Tuesday knocked on the gates of the Supreme Court for judicial safeguards to protect activists from what they said are abuses of the law. 

Seven rights groups and six people whose families are detained due to what they said were made-up charges filed a report to Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo. The report was in response to the high court calling for motions or complaints for the assessment of "revision or institutional change."

The groups noted that the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers had submitted a report on the attacks on lawyers, and most of the victims are those working on public interest cases. In a report filed on April 26, the NUPL noted there have been 176 work-related attacks on lawyers, including 73 killings, in the past ten years and the numbers have surged since the start of the Duterte administration

"Their clients, many of whom are activists and progressive organizations like the undersigned, are being deprived of effective access to legal services and adequate protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms," they told the court.

Attacks on activists

The groups said that since the start of the administration of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the executive branch, the military and police have engaged in a "dirty war" against unarmed activists.

They said the attacks range from publicly labeling legal organizations as "communist fronts," filing of trumped-up charges and subjecting them to arbitrary arrests and surveillance. “Many have been forcibly disappeared or victims of extrajudicial killings,” they added.

In recent years, the government has taken to labeling activist groups as “’communist-terrorists,’ as counter-terrorism turned out to be another pretext for the suppression of dissent and civil liberties,” they also said.

At the forefront of the red-tagging and public vilification of groups is the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict which, they said, lumps together activists and rebels.

"By removing the distinction between the armed and unarmed, the underground and the legal, activists become targets of hostile and punitive action as well as stigma and discrimination," the groups told the court.

Review rules on writs

They urged the SC to review its existing rules on the writ of amparo, the writ of habeas data, the writ of habeas corpus and other pre-detention and pre-trial remedies.

The groups noted that the writs of amparo and habeas data are seen as corrective and not preventive remedies, which puts the burden on petitioners to prove their case.

The NUPL, whose lawyers helped in drafting the report, has long been calling for a review of the rules on the writ. They submitted a paper on proposed amendments to the SC as early as 2009.

"The assessment of their efficacy in providing timely and concrete protection and safeguards for basic rights is an imperative concern," the groups told the court.

They also urged the SC to abandon the Ilagan v. Enrile doctrine where the petition of habeas corpus was rendered moot and academic by the filing of an Information or charge.

It is unclear whether the SC statement issued in March is the opening for such a review, but the high court said they will look into whether rules may be amended.

“Based on the information provided, the Court will then decide on the next courses of action, including the amendment of the relevant rules, or if necessary, the creation of new ones,” the SC said then.

Rules on subpoenas, search warrants

The groups also appealed to the SC to promulgate rules to ensure the timely receipt of subpoenas and criminal complaints so respondents may be given opportunity to present countervailing evidence during preliminary investigation.

They noted that activists face warrants in cases that stemmed from a complaint they were not even aware of, because the subpoenas were sent to wrong or false addresses.

Amid questions on the irregularities in search warrants implementations, the groups urged the SC to remind trial courts to look into the regularity of search and seizure or the issuance of a search warrant.

READ: SC urged to be proactive, provide safeguards vs 'templated' warrants

Several groups have urged the SC to look into the "weaponization" of the rule of law through the issuance of search warrants that results in not only arrests on what groups said are made-up cases, but also the killings of activists.

In March, BAYAN Secretary-General Renato Reyes said there seems to be a pattern of abuse, which starts with the application for search warrants, which judges issue to authorize the police to enter people's houses and offices.

“The issuance of new rules that are more responsive in providing urgent, immediate, simple, concrete and practical reliefs for victims of rights violations, particularly of the pernicious and indiscriminate practice of red-tagging and de facto terrorist designation,” the groups told the SC.

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