The Supreme Court on Tuesday has approved in principle a proposal to require law enforcers to wear body cameras when executing search warrants, in an apparent response to allegations that police used unnecessary force when they killed nine activists while serving warrants in Calabarzon.
During its regular en banc session, the Court resolved to consider the proposal to revise its Rules of Criminal Procedure to require the use of body cameras for law enforcers who execute warrants issued by the trial courts.
Court sspokesman Brian Keith Hosaka said the justices approved the use of body cameras in the service of warrants but said this will be subject to the actual guidelines as may be set in a formal resolution issued by the Court.
The decision came after various groups pleaded with the Supreme Court to take action on the series of killings allegedly perpetrated by police officers during the service of warrants
The wearing of body cameras, lawyer Evalyn Ursua said, would stop speculation about summary executions being carried out by law enforcers whenever there is a shootout.
This would also prevent parties from issuing false accusations or accounts of what transpired, she said.
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers chairman Neri Colmenares also suggested that if the service of a warrant resulted in a fatality, the Supreme Court should get the records of the case from the judge for review.
He added that law enforcement officers should be required to submit a report on the facts that led to the death of a person aside fromsubmitting a list of items found or confiscated from the subject of the search warrant.
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday said the Duterte administration has recorded the most number of killings of lawyers, most of who have represented victims of the government’s “war on drugs” or human rights violations.
HRW Senior Philippine Researchers Carlos Conde said more lawyers have been killed in the five years since Duterte took office than under any other government in Philippine history.
Citing data gathered by news website Rappler, he noted that of the 110 lawyers killings from 1972 to the present, 61 happened since 2016.
Conde also disclosed that since 2004, charges have been filed in just seven cases in which lawyers were victims, underscoring the lack of accountability for serious crimes in the Philippines.
The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), one of two nongovernmental groups that track killings of lawyers, said more than half of the killingss were work-related.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), which also monitors attacks, said most of those killed represented either victims of the “war on drugs” or victims of human rights violations.
The NUPL said almost all perpetrators have never been brought to the bar of justice.
Many of the high-profile attacks involved members of the NUPL, which represents leftist activists as well as victims of human rights violations.
In 2018, gunmen shot dead Benjamin Ramos in Negros Occidental, where there was an uptick of violence directed against plantation labor organizers, peasant groups, and rights defenders. Earlier this month, masked men with a screwdriver stabbed Angelo Karlo Guillen, the NUPL’s secretary-general on Panay Island.
Guillen, who was critically injured but survived, had handled several rights-related cases, notably the police killing in December of nine members of an indigenous peoples’ group.
Lawyers in the Philippines have a long history of representing victims of human rights violations, making them targets as well.
FLAG was founded in 1974 at the height of the Marcos dictatorship. The majority of cases it handled were political or human rights cases.
NUPL was founded in 2007 amid rampant rights violations under then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; 22 of the 110 lawyers killed in Rappler’s tally were murdered during her presidency, the highest after Duterte.
Conde emphasized that targeted killing of Filipinos swept up in the brutal “war on drugs” or taking part in human rights activism is bad enough.
He said the killing of those who defend them or seek to provide their families redress “adds immeasurably to the horror.”
Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima, a lawyer herself, bewailed the killings, stressing that the culture of violence and killings propagated under the Duterte administration should stop now..
De Lima said that the unabated killings happening in the country on top of Duterte's incompetent and negligent handling of the COVID-19 pandemic only shows "that spreading death is the only core competence of this regime."
Since 2017, De Lima has called for independent inquiries into the killing of lawyers.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the House committee on human rights voiced concern over "incidents leading to threats, attacks and killings involving legal practitioners in the country."
Rep. Jesus Suntay of Quezon City, the panel's chairman, lamented the harassment of lawyers despite government efforts to address it.
He was referring to the letter from the Calbayog City Police Station to Calbayog City’s Office of the Clerk of Court asking for a list of lawyers whose clients were alleged communists.
“The committee abhors the brazen attempt by the PNP Calbayog to ask the courts to compile a list of lawyers representing alleged communist terrorist groups... Inquiries with other lawyers and court officials across the country by concerned groups confirmed that similar letters were received by them,” Suntay said.
Despite the PNP’s denial of such a directive, Suntay said the persecution of lawyers continues, creating a chilling effect on the country’s justice system.
Also on Tuesday, the Supreme Court said regional trial courts in Manila and Antipolo issued 46 search warrants that police and the military served on March 7 in a series of raids that killed nine activists in Calabarzon.
In a two-page memorandum, Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez informed Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta that based on the reports of the RTCs of Manila and Antipolo, out of the total 72 applications, they granted 46 search warrants that were all served on the same day, March 7.
“It appears that the 42 search warrants obtained in Manila, plus the four from Antipolo, were served simultaneously on 7 March 2021. From news reports, it can be gleaned that this resulted in the death of nine, and the arrest of six individuals,” Marquez told the chief magistrate.
“It must be noted, however, that the issuance of the search warrants by the judges and their service or implementation by the law enforcers are two different acts. The issuance of search warrants is judicial in nature. As such, judicial remedies are available to those aggrieved by their issuance,” the Court Administrator added.
Marquez emphasized that “any action at this time on their issuance may preempt any judicial recourse any party may take.”
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