SC reviewing 'extraordinary' writs to adapt to changing times

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — Acknowledging the need to adapt to changing times while protecting peoples’ rights, Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo said the Supreme Court is reviewing its rules on the extraordinary writs of kalikasan and amparo.

Speaking to the members of the press for the first time, Gesmundo on Friday said that upon the assumption of his post, he directed the Office of Court Attorneys to research materials related to the writ of kalikasan and amparo for a review on their rules.

“Because I understand that the writ of kalikasan, in particular, was adopted as early as 2010 and a number of changes have happened concerning protection of environment,” he noted.

The writ of kalikasan a remedy formulated by the court to better protect the rights of the citizens to a balanced and healthful ecology as enshrined in the Constitution.

The writ of amparo, rules of which were promulgated in 2007, is a protection extended to petitioners when threats to their life, liberty and security emanate from the military, police and other state security forces. It covers extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof.

“We are doing our continuous effort to revise these rules. It’s just that we have to gather more materials to guide us in the revisions but it is one of the priorities of the court for revision,” he said.

In an open letter to Gesmundo, 103 civic groups, including domestic rights alliance Karapatan, called for a review and revise rules on the privilege of the writs of amparo and habeas data.

This is “to ensure that human rights defenders are afforded timely, relevant and comprehensive legal protection from threats to their lives, security and liberty, including red-tagging and gendered threats received by women and queer human rights defenders,” they told the chief justice.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and Karapatan in 2019 sought but failed to obtain protection writs from the Court of Appeals.

Innovation and adapting to times

In 2020, Advocacy group Kapatid, which led the families of political prisoners in filing their petition for humanitarian release, urged the SC to promulgate rules on the writ of kalayaan.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen discussed, in his separate opinion on Almonte v. People, a potential writ of kalayaan geared towards jail decongestion. Leonen said: “It shall be issued when all the requirements to establish cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment are present” and “provide an order of precedence to bring the occupation of jails to a more humane level.”

For the writ of kalayaan, Gesmundo stressed that this is an innovation that would need a thorough study. He admitted that this may take time.

“You have to consider a lot of factors before arriving in those, or adopting those rules, because they have to make sure that we do not deviate from what the constitution requires or allow us to do consistent that may be allowed to adopt rules concerning the protection of Constitutional rights,” he said.

The political prisoners lost their case for temporary release under humanitarian grounds before the SC. The tribunal instead told lower courts to resolve issues raised in their petition “with dispatch.”

The chief justice, however, assured that the Supreme Court “will adopt rules as the exigencies require in order that these constitutionally-guaranteed rights are fully protected.”

The Constitution vests the SC with the power to promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement or rights, pleading, practice and procedure in all courts.

Gesmundo noted that some may question this authority, but asserted that the SC “will promulgate those rules when it finds it necessary only that it must be within the parameters of the Constitution.”

“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.

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