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SC now requires law enforcers to wear body cameras in implementation of warrants

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
SC now requires law enforcers to wear body cameras in implementation of warrants
Philippine National Police chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar launches the use of body-worn cameras by police officers during a press conference in Camp Crame, Quezon City on June 4, 2021.
The STAR / Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — Law enforcement agents implementing arrest and search warrants will now be required to use at least two recording devices for their operations, the latest rules promulgated by the Supreme Court held.

Citing its power to promulgate rules to protect the protection of people’s rights, the SC on June 29 issued the Rules on the Use of Body-Worn Cameras amid mounting calls for safeguards on rules they claimed have been weaponized against dissenters and activists.

“There are increasing reports of civilian deaths resulting from the execution of warrants issued by trial courts, the causes and conditions surrounding such deaths being widely disputed,” the Rules read.

“Advances in technology, particularly the availability of body-worn cameras, make it possible to integrate its use to support law enforcement and to guarantee the protection of fundamental rights,” the SC also said.

READ: Judiciary asked to review how search warrants are issued, implemented

Rule 2 of the Rules on the Use of Body-Worn Cameras states that the court, upon finding of probable cause, shall issue a warrant of arrest with an order requiring at least two recording devices.

This may be one body-worn camera and an alternative recording device.

Under the rules, an alternative recording device is an electronic camera system which is not a body-worn camera that is capable of creating, generating, sending, receiving, storing, displaying and processing audio-visual recordings, and may be worn during law enforcement activities

Video resolution should be 720p or higher and should have eight hours of continuous battery life. The alternative recording device should also have a built-in light mode.

If a body-worn camera is unavailable, the law enforcers must seek authority from court to use alternative recording devices for justifiable reasons. At least two alternative recording devices must still be used.

On applications for a search warrant, law enforcers must state the availability or unavailability of body-worn cameras. “In case of their unavailability, the applicant may request for authority to use alternative recording devices,” it added.

Here are other provisions on the Rules on the Use of Body-Worn Cameras:

Roving warrants

The rules limited the power of Manila and Quezon City executive and vice executive judges to issue search warrants outside their jurisdiction, an authority that progressive groups claimed has been weaponized against activists.

Rule 5 of the latest issuance of the court repeals Chapter V, Section 12 of A.M. No. 03-8-02-SC, as amended. The said provision allowed executive judges—and if unavailable, their vice executive judges—of Manila and Quezon City Regional Trial Courts to act on applications of search warrants of law enforcement agents.

Rule 3 Section 2 of the Rules on the Use of Body-Worn Cameras holds that executive and vice-executive judges of RTCs shall have the authority to act on law enforcers’ applications for search warrants that will be implemented “within their judicial regions.”

Applications shall be personally endorsed by heads of agencies and must state “compelling reasons” for filing the applications before the said courts. “The Executive Judges and Vice-Executive Judges concerned shall issue the warrants, if justified, which may be served in places outside the territorial jurisdiction but within the judicial regions of these courts,” it added.

Excluded from this provision are Special Commercial Courts that may issue search warrants involving intellectual property rights violations.

But the SC said: “Multiple search warrant applications based on the same evidence filed in the same court shall be a ground for denial. If already issued, this shall be a ground for the quashal of these warrants.”

RELATED: OCA: Manila court got 63 search warrant applications on same day for Calabarzon raids

This has been an issue raised by activists questioning the applications for search warrants that led to the bloody Calabarzon raids that left nine activists dead. Office of the Court Administrator records showed that Manila Regional Trial Court received 63 applications for warrants on the same day, all to be served in the Calabarzon region. 

Notification

The Rules state officers wearing the recording device must inform the person to be arrested and other subjects that the execution of the warrant of arrest is being recorded.

Officers must also inform lawful occupants of the premises to be searched that the enforcement of the search warrant is being recorded.

Use during implementation

Arrest warrant: Video and audio recording should start at the time officers arrive at the time of arrest and shall continue to record until the arrest has been fully concluded and the person is delivered to the nearest police station or jail.

In case of warrantless arrest as provided under Rule 113, Section 5 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, “and insofar as it is practicable,” the arrest shall be recorded using the body-worn cameras or alternative recording devices. Recordings and affidavits of arrest shall also be submitted to the inquest prosecutor.

Search warrant: Two devices will be needed in the implementation of a search warrant. “The officers having such cameras shall ensure that they are worn in a conspicuous location and in a manner that maximizes their ability to capture the recording of the search,” it added.

When death results from the enforcement of a search warrant—which has been recorded in several operations against progressive group members—the SC said that an incident report detailing the implementation and why death occurred and related inquest proceedings, including those against implementing officers, shall be submitted to the Court.

Failure to observe requirements

Arrest warrant: Failure to comply with requirements of body-worn cameras shall not render the arrest unlawful or evidence obtained as inadmissible. The SC said testimonies may prove the facts surrounding the arrest.

“However, a law enforcement officer who fails, without unreasonable grounds, to use body-worn cameras or alternate recording devices, or intentionally interferes with the body-worn cameras’ ability to accurately capture audio and video recordings of the arrest may be liable for contempt of court,” it said. Officers’ failure to timely file affidavits may also risk contempt.

Liability for contempt, however, shall not apply in case of non-recording due to malfunction or officers are not aware of the malfunction prior to the incident.

Search warrant: Failure to use recording devices in implementation of search warrants, “without unreasonable grounds,” shall render evidence obtained as inadmissible.

Officers who fail to adhere to the requirement or intentionally interfere with the recording may face contempt of court. As with service of arrest warrant rules, failure to timely file affidavit may also risk contempt, but exception on non-recording due to malfunction or officers are not aware of the malfunction prior to the incident also applies.

Persons subjected to search without the use of body-worn cameras or alternative recording devices may file a motion to suppress evidence.

Use in a court proceeding

The SC said that consent of persons arrested or affected by the searches as recorded shall only be asked in presence of legal counsel. If the person consents or stays silent “the recordings may be used by and against him or her in a court proceeding,” it added.

If the person declines, recordings may not be used.

The SC stressed that the recordings are not public records, except when they capture the loss of life or assault on law enforcers during arrest or search. Should these happen, recordings may be used even without the consent of the affected persons, it added.

ALEXANDER GESMUNDO

EXPLAINER

EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS

SUPREME COURT

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