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Opinion

Writ of kalayaan out soon to boost rights protection

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

Observing International Human Rights Day today, we can look forward to one bright prospect: the writ of kalayaan, a new judicial mechanism that will boost the protection of our rights to life, liberty and security, will be promulgated and submitted for approval by the Supreme Court en banc in 2023.

It will augment three correlated writs already in effect in the country: the writs of amparo, habeas data and habeas corpus, all of which will undergo the Court’s critical review.

There’s also a writ of kalikasan already in effect, that provides protection and relief against natural disasters or the threat of disasters caused by human activities like mining. The writs of amparo, habeas data and kalikasan were promulgated and adopted by the SC under Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno in the late 2000s.

Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, chairperson of the SC’s Committee on Human Rights, announced he would ask the en banc to approve the new writ of kalayaan, which he said would assist various individuals and communities. It would also call the attention of specific courts to the bad conditions of the country’s jails and detention centers.

He announced his plans during the unveiling of a marker, at the Court’s main building lobby on Dec. 8, memorializing the SC’s commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By unveiling the marker, the SC celebrates its commitment to “do more,” he said, adding that human rights “can also be framed as part of our duties to each other, our communities and our societies.”

In reviewing the earlier writs, Justice Leonen said his committee would look into their contents, impacts and operations, presumably to make them more effective.  They would consult the basic sectors of society, the government and the uniformed services.

Moreover, within the first half of 2023 – based on the data collected in recent years – he committed to make recommendations to the en banc as to how to further protect lawyers and judges.

Two years back, Justice Leonen had already suggested the promulgation and issuance of the writ of kalayaan that shall serve as a “continuing mandamus [order]” for the government to fix the deplorable prison conditions in the country.

He did so in a separate opinion on a petition filed on April 8, 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, by relatives and friends of political detainees asking the SC to cause the release of at least 22 ailing and elderly prisoners on humanitarian grounds.

Through Kapatid, the association of relatives of friends of political detainees, aided by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, the petitioners urged their temporary release through bail, recognizance or other non-custodial measures. “The continued incarceration of the sick and elderly would be a virtual death sentence,” the petition said.

Severe congestion in the country’s jails and detention centers – at the time, the recorded prison population was 215,000 in 933 detention facilities – impelled Kapatid to file the petition. And that became the premise of Justice Leonen’s suggesting the writ of kalayaan as one probable corrective step.

Note that the SC en banc, under then CJ Diosdado Peralta, took five months to debate on and finalize the legalities of granting temporary release to political detainees, according to a Rappler report. The 3001-page decision consisted mostly of the varying opinions penned by individual justices.

Promulgated on July 28, 2020, the decision was publicly announced on Sept. 10, but was received by the petitioners only on Oct. 9 that year.

The decision simply stated that the SC could not decide to grant bail to any of the detainees named in the petition because it’s the lower courts that should hear evidence on the application for bail – a long process. Thus, the case was handed back to the lower courts, with the order to act with “utmost dispatch.” To this day, the detained petitioners, their health conditions deteriorating, remain behind bars.

As regards the controversial budget of the NTF-ELCAC, the Senate-House bicameral conference committee fully restored it to P10 billion, reversing the plenary decision by both chambers to slash P5 billion, realigning the amount to social services.  Each chamber ratified the bicameral committee report when they finally approved the P5.268-trillion 2023 national budget.

The restoration was initiated by Rep. Elizalde Co, House appropriations committee head, at the instruction of Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and Deputy Senior Majority Leader Ferdinand Alexander Marcos (Marcos Jr.’s eldest son).

Belatedly, Co explained: “Congress recognizes the important role the NTF-ELCAC plays to help end the country’s decades-long insurgency. Thus, we will convince our Senate counterparts in the bicam committee to restore the agency’s proposed budget. After all, this is one of key priorities of (Marcos Jr.), which was clearly outlined in the National Expenditure Program the administration sent to Congress.”

People’s organizations, broad coalitions and sectoral formations quickly condemned the congressional flip-flop. A signature campaign online is now urging Congress to defund NTF-ELCAC and use the funds for social services instead.

The human rights alliance Karapatan issued a scathing declaration:

“Despite the NTF-ELCAC’s incompetence in liquidation and anomalous dispersal of funds, flagged by the Commission on Audit, the Congress bicameral committee chose to feed the Marcos Jr. government’s war budget. This is a big disservice to the Filipino people, as these funds are used to suppress the people’s protests and dissent and to harass and intimidate communities that are active in pursuit of their rights.”

“We reiterate that giving humongous funds to an agency such as NTF-ELCAC comes at the expense of basic social services for the people,” Karapatan stressed. “Their claim of addressing the roots of insurgency is actually a death sentence, by its policies of red-tagging and endangering the lives of many Filipinos.”

Not surprisingly, the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC will be one of the primary calls of rights defenders and activists as they commemorate International Human Rights Day this year.

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Email: [email protected]

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