“To threaten our judges and lawyers is no less than an assault to the judiciary. To assault the judiciary is to shake the very bedrock on which the rule of law stands. This cannot be allowed in a civil society like ours. This cannot go undenounced on the court’s watch.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The Supreme Court condemned the killings and threats against the officers of the court, saying the assault on the judiciary “cannot be allowed cannot in a society like ours.”
In a rare statement today, March 23, the SC en banc said they “condemn in a strongest sense every instance where a lawyer is threatened or killed and where a judge is threatened and unfairly labeled.”
“To threaten our judges and lawyers is no less than an assault to the judiciary. To assault the judiciary is to shake the very bedrock on which the rule of law stands. This cannot be allowed in a civil society like ours. This cannot go undenounced on the court’s watch,” the SC said.
The statement is in response to the calls of numerous lawyers’ groups to act on the killing of lawyers and judges, and to review the rules of procedures in issuing warrants.
Under the Duterte administration, at least 54 lawyers and judges have been killed, according to the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).
The statement read by SC Spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka also cited the high court’s steps in protecting lawyers and judges.
First, the SC requested relevant information from the lower courts as well as the various law enforcement offices to shed light on the incidents of threats and killings of lawyers and judges within the past 10 years. The high court also urged organizations, lawyers and judges’ groups to provide them with vetted information on any incident threats or killings. Based on these, the SC will decide if it is necessary to amend relevant rules or create new ones.
Second, the SC also resolved to work on, deliberate and promulgate rules on the use of body cameras for the service of search and arrest warrants.
Third, the SC ordered the Court Administrator to coordinate with law enforcement agencies to investigate the recent incident linking Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio of Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 209 to communist groups.
Weeks after Quisumbing-Ignacio ordered the release of Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esperago, streamers bearing the logos of underground revolutionary organizations were seen along Edsa, thanking the said judge for dismissing the charges against the two.
Fourth, the SC also ordered the Court Administrator to survey among the trial court and Shari’a judges the extent of threats they have received in the past 10 years. The court will also base their next course of action after a report on this has been made.
The SC said it has coordinated with all concerned to provide security and counseling to the judges concerned. The high court is also “ready to provide or coordinate security arrangements for any judge or justice that is similarly threatened.”
Fifth, the SC is referring all letters that contain specific incidents to the relevant trial courts, which will then order the parties to convert such letters into petitions for the writs of amparo and habeas data.
The two writs are legal remedies for victims of human rights violations.
In all these processes, the SC said it will coordinate with all concerned groups through existing mechanisms.
The en banc also encouraged lawyers who are experiencing attacks to file the necessary motions in pending cases, petitions or complaints so that the courts may receive the evidence, determine the facts, facts and based on the issues framed provide the relevant relief for each case.
“General invocations of policy will be better supported by experience with the system. In so doing, we can assess what provisions or institutional change is necessary to effectively and efficiently further protect our basic rights,” the SC added.
We welcome the SC’s taking cognizance of the condemnable yet continuing attacks against lawyers, judges and even ordinary Filipinos under the present atmosphere of wanton disregard of the rule of law and justice.
— Rep. Carlos I.T. Zarate (@kaloi_zarate) March 23, 2021
Several groups have welcomed the SC’s statement.
NUPL President Edre Olalia said it is “generally both comforting and reassuring to the legal community even as it took some precious time to happen and at great cost.”
“At this crucial juncture when the other institutions have defaulted on us, we fervently welcome these bold and unequivocal declarations, initial steps and further plans from our very own refuge,” Olalia said.
NUPL said it will cooperate with the SC’s directives.
Olalia added that they will continue “to move, plead and pray that the SC continue to stand by its own magistrates, its officers of the court, and our people and that it ensures or provides more effective and timelier remedies especially against grave abuse of power and attacks on liberties.”
In a separate statement, Renato Reyes Jr, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said the SC’s statement is an acknowledgment of the worsening human rights situation in the country. He cited the recent murder attempt against Angelo Karlo Guillen, one of the petitioners against the Anti-Terror Act.
“Petitioners in various cases have long been on the receiving end of deadly attacks including trumped-up charges and weaponized search warrants,” Reyes said.
Karapatan also expressed willingness to participate in the collection of information regarding threats and killings of lawyers and their clients as well as judges.
In reaction to the SC encouraging the filing of writ of amparo and writ of habeas data, Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay appealed to the Supreme Court to act on their petition for review regarding the Court of Appeals’ dismissal of their own petition.
Karapatan’s petition seeking protection from the high court was dismissed in May 2019.
In July 2019, the NUPL’s own petition for amparo and habeas data was also dismissed by the Court of Appeals for alleged “lack of evidence.” At that time, at least 40 members of the legal profession, judges, prosecutors, and lawyers were already gunned down since Duterte took office.
Palabay also said that while the use of body cameras by the law enforcers service of arrest and search warrants is a welcome development, “it is only effective as long as rights-based protocols that uphold civil liberties and rights, including those on data privacy and right to information, and accountability mechanisms are in place.”