SC to Work for Social Justice – Chief Justice Puno

“Maaasahan [ang Korte Suprema] na gagawa ng lahat ng kayang gawin upang ang social justice na isang mandato ng ating Saligang Batas ay magkaroon ng saysay sa ating mga kababayan.” Chief Justice Reynato Puno

Volume VIII, Number 30, August 31-September 6, 2008

Chief Justice Reynato Puno said that the Supreme Court will consider expanding the writ of amparo, dealing with harassment suits, setting up of small claims courts, among others, to protect the economic, social and cultural rights of the poor.

Writ of amparo

In his speech at the forum titled, “Kabuhayan, Karapatan, Katarungan,” (Livelihood, Rights, Justice) organized by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), August 28, Puno said that the writ of amparo may be expanded to protect economic, social and cultural rights of the poor.

The writ of amparo was promulgated by the High Court on October 24, 2007 to provide legal remedy for victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

Quoting reports from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Puno said that the Commission on Human Rights’ (CHR) monitored a significant drop in incidents of extrajudicial killings. Meanwhile, United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston noted the improvement in the situation after the SC introduced new rules.

Puno said that with the effectiveness of the writ of amparo, the SC will seriously consider expanding its scope. He said that in Mexico, the writ of amparo also covers social, economic and cultural rights.

The chief justice said that the writ of amparo, for instance, could be used as a protection against demolition of urban poor communities.

The Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), an organization of urban poor, welcomed Puno’s statement.

The group complained that Regional Trial Courts (RTCs) always decide for the demolition of their communities. Kadamay’s Ed Lecson, said they had no one to turn to during demolitions.

Ang pamahalaan natin, magaling mag-drawing ng proyektong pangkaunlaran pero hindi kasama sa guhit ang maralitang tagalunsod,” (The government is good at drawing so-called development projects but the urban poor is always excluded in the plan.) said Lecson.

Harassment suits

Puno also vowed to consider the proposal of the NUPL regarding the Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP).

In his presentation, Julius Matibag, NUPL member, said that SLAPP cases are essentially harassment suits. “Layon nitong manakot, manggipit sa mga kritiko… mas mapanganib, mas mapaniil sa karapatang pang-ekonomiya,” (These are intended to threaten, harass critics…more dangerous and more repressive of economic rights) he said.

Matibag said that victims of SLAPP cases are burdened and threatened with costly and long litigation, danyos perwisyo (payment of damages) and detention.

The NUPL, in its proposal, defines SLAPP as 1) any civil complaint, counter-claim, criminal complaint or information, or administrative complaint; 2) filed against individual or individuals, groups, labor unions, entity or associations, community residents, or the like; 3) by reason, or arising out, of their exercise of freedom of speech, expression, or of the press, or of the right to peaceably assemble or petition the government for redress of grievances in matters of public concern; 4) intended merely to harass, vex, exert undue pressure, or stifle the resources of such individual or individuals, groups, labor unions, entity or associations, community residents, or the like.

SLAPP cases, Matibag said, are usually used by mining companies and banana plantations against community residents, indigenous people, environmentalists, media; landlords against peasants; employers against workers; universities and colleges against students; and, public figures, politicians against critics, media.

Matibag cited multi-million libel suits, cases of slander, grave coercion, illegal assembly direct assault resistance, disobedience and injunctions as some of the SLAPP cases filed.

In their reports, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment enumerated harassment suits filed against their members and supporters.

Danilo Ramos, KMP secretary general, called it criminalization of agrarian cases. He said that 13 peasants in Cagayan Valley were charged with arson, another 13 were charged with illegal logging in Cadiz. Some were charged with theft.

Roger Soluta, KMU deputy secretary general, also opposed the criminalization of labor disputes. He said that workers, especially those who are on strike, are charged with various common crimes.

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