The Integrated Bar of the Philippines on Friday called on the Supreme Court to review its rule allowing executive judges of regional trial courts in Manila City and Quezon City to issue search warrants that could be implemented anywhere in the country.
IBP National President Domingo Cayosa sought a review of a 2004 circular allowing executive judges, or in their absence, vice executive judges, in Manila and Quezon City regional trial courts to issue search warrants that could be enforced anywhere in the country for as long as the legal requirements are met.
“That is one of the suggestions of the IBP, that if possible, the Supreme Court should review the rule allowing a regional trial court in Manila to issue search or arrest warrants valid all over the country,” Cayosa said in an interview over ABS-CBN.
“Especially for search warrants, maybe it is better if the regional trial court that has jurisdiction over the area, and not the one based in Manila, should provide it,” he added.
The IBP official made the proposal after the police-military operations in Calabarzon to serve search warrants for loose firearms and explosives last Sunday resulted in the death of nine activists
Reports showed that the search warrants for the raids were issued by Manila RTC First Vice Executive Judge Jose Lorenzo Dela Rosa, also the presiding judge of Manila RTC Branch 4, and Manila RTC Branch 174 Presiding Judge Jason Zapanta.
The IBP president noted there were allegations that RTCs have become “warrant factories” for the police.
Cayosa also said there were instances where cases were filed based on warrants issued by Metro Manila courts resulted in the dismissal of charges by provincial courts for lack of sufficient evidence and conflicting testimonies in requesting the warrants.
The IBP official warned judges who would be proven to have committed irregularities in issuing search or arrest warrants might be sacked from their posts and face charges.
Cayosa also urged the high court to make the wearing of body cameras a requirement in serving search warrants to prevent police abuse.
According to him, body cameras would help secure evidence if the police would be accused of committing irregularities in serving the warrants.
Police authorities justified the legitimacy of their operation that resulted in the deaths of 9 activists, saying the fatalities have engaged them in armed confrontations.
But Cayosa emphasized that individuals who were subjects of warrants should be alive after the police operation.
The IBP official deplored the killing of the nine activists, saying search and arrest warrants should not be “death warrants.”
“What happened was alarming because under the law, subjects of the search and arrest warrants should be alive after the operation,” he said.
“They are not death warrants, and police should only use reasonable force if ever there is resistance,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice-led inter-agency committee under 2012 Administrative Order 35 will investigate all aspects of the police-military operations in Calabarzon.
“Since there were deaths, all aspects of the police operations must be open to examination,” Justice Undersecretary Adrian Ferdinand Sugay said in a text message to reporters.
Sugay stressed the investigation by the AO 35 Task Force on extrajudicial killings will not only determine liabilities, but it will also help improve processes to prevent loss of lives in the future.
“Any findings will also help police improve their processes to help avoid unnecessary loss of life in the future,” he added.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier said the DOJ has endorsed the Calabarzon case for investigation of the inter-agency Task Force after finding “sufficient evidence that the victims were members of cause-oriented groups carrying out legitimate dissent.”
Under Administrative Order 35, the inter-agency committee is mandated to investigate EJKs, enforced disappearances, torture and other violations of the right to life, liberty, and security of persons.
“We want a full, thorough, and complete investigation that will hold up in court and result in justice for the victims and accountability for the system,” Sugay said.
“We do not want to trip over anything when we rush things,” he said.