By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — The Court of Appeals (CA) 7th Division initially ruled in favor of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) by holding in abeyance the petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO), which was filed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), to stop the commission’s hearings on the complaint of human rights violations filed by 43 health workers.
The 43 health workers, who were arrested on Feb. 6 in Morong, Rizal, filed a complaint of human rights abuses before the CHR against the police, military and others involved in their arrest and detention.
For three consecutive hearings, the AFP defied the CHR order to produce the Morong 43 and instead filed a petition for TRO before the CA.
The CA 7th Division under Justice Juan Enriquez did not issue a TRO because it deemed the petition as “premature” and the CHR has a clear constitutional mandate to investigate such cases, Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) and one of the legal counsels of the Morong 43 said.
“We are satisfied by the way the CA handled the hearing,” Pastores said.
“The CHR has yet to issue any resolution in the case and it has not performed adjudication as claimed by the petitioners,” Pastores said further. Pastores stressed that the CHR is only doing its mandate of conducting a fact-finding investigation on the serious allegations of human rights violations.
In an interview with Bulatlat, CHR Chairwoman Leila de Lima said the court advised them to sit with the Office of Solicitor General (OSG), the counsels of the petitioners to discuss certain undertakings.
“They said they are willing to produce the Morong 43 but they have all sorts of excuses,” de Lima said.
The court advised the Department of National Defense (DND) to secure permission from the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Morong to be able to produce the detainees before the CHR hearings.
“The AFP and PNP [Philippine National Police] are attempting to be above the law by defying the orders of the court and trying to manipulate it. This is a reason for all Filipinos to be alarmed,” Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan chairwoman, said in a statement.
Hide the Truth
Pastores said the OSG stopped questioning the CHR’s jurisdiction to conduct the hearings but insisted that it should limit its questions. “The DND and AFP do not want the CHR to ask about the legality of the search and the arrest. What else would the CHR ask?” Pastores said, adding that those questions are vital in determining whether human rights abuses have been committed.
“The petition itself is an attempt to hide the truth and evade responsibility and to perpetuate the culture of impunity,” Pastores said.
The Morong 43 lawyer said the CHR hearings exposed many things, including how the military and the police conducted the raid on Feb. 6.
“Be brave enough to face your stupidity,” Evelyn Montes, wife of Dr. Alex Montes, one of the detainees, told the military and police at the picket outside the CA compound yesterday.
Meanwhile, the CA’s 12th Division granted a similar petition filed by Judge Cesar Mangrobang and Cyrus Jurado and issued a TRO.
Mangrobang is the judge who issued the search warrant used in the Feb. 6 raid and Jurado, according to the relatives of Morong 43, is the lawyer who was hired by the military to represent five of the 43 detainees.
De Lima said they will file a comment and ask the CA to lift the TRO.
In a text message, Karapatan said it welcomes the decision of the CA’s 7th Division and urges the 12th Division to follow suit and lift its TRO.
Pastores said the CA 12th Division did not conduct a hearing before issuing a decision. “The court should have studied the case well given the seriousness of allegations of human rights abuses,” she said.
“This reflects the low level of appreciation of the courts on the work of the CHR and on human rights issues in general,” Pastores added.
Pastores explained that the case filed before the CHR is totally different from those filed at the RTC. “Under the Constitution, the people have the right against unreasonable seizure, illegal arrest, among others. The CHR has the mandate to hear the case.”
In Defense of the CHR
“We call on all peace-loving Filipinos to support the moves of the CHR to assert its independence and exercise its mandate to investigate human rights violations,” Enriquez said.
“The CHR is the only institution that oppressed people like us can turn to. They must not suppress the CHR,” Mrs. Montes said.
Dr. Julie Caguiat, spokesperson of the Free the 43 Health Workers! Alliance said the CHR is the only venue where abuses of the military and police have been exposed. (Bulatlat.com)