"If implemented properly, this could be a game changer."
In concluding this series, we examine the administrative issuance by the Supreme Court in relation to judicial warrants, specifically Administrative Matter No. 21-06-08-SC, which obligates law enforcers to wear body cameras as well as scraps the power of courts to issue warrants outside their judicial jurisdiction.
Since President Rodrigo Duterte launched his murderous war on drugs campaign, thousands, mostly small-time drug suspects, have been killed, many of whom were shot under suspicious circumstances. Questions swirling over the killings and arrests multiplied when, at the urging of the President, law enforcers began targeting activists and human rights advocates on the pretext that these are Communist insurgents. In most of these killings, law enforcers and administration apologists have the penchant for sweeping under the rug doubts and suspicions on the killings and arrests. All too often, the police justify the killings as an act of self-defense. However, many are questioning this. International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda points out in her Request for further judicial investigation of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs that there are enough indications of planning in killing such that according to witness accounts, many incidents, it appears the killings neither occurred in “shootouts” nor were otherwise justified, but instead resembled summary executions.
As far as I can remember, there is a belief that some rogue police officers are wont to resort to legal shortcuts in effecting judicial warrants. Planting of evidence and extralegal killing are some of the more common methods employed to circumvent the law or to ensure that either the victim is silenced or put behind bars. The killing of nine activists on Bloody Sunday last March in Laguna, Rizal, and Batangas are more recent examples of arrest and search gone haywire. In the Tumandok massacre in Iloilo, the police version that they were implementing a search warrant was contradicted by progressive groups which described the killings as executions. The Iloilo Regional Trial court saw through this when it recently quashed the search warrants, prompting NUPL President Edre U. Olalia to hail this latest move by the Court, saying:
“We are of course elated that our assertion about the dubiousness of the search warrant and by implication even the violent search itself was validated by a brave and independent court that remained faithful to the law, the Constitution and reason.
“That it had to take some time and at irreparable costs to life, liberty and security of our oppressed & poor indigenous peoples is lamentable.”
The problem has become so serious such that lawyers and human rights advocates have long been imploring the high tribunal to remedy the situation, which resulted in the issuance by the SC of Administrative Matter No. 21-06-08-SC making it mandatory for law enforcement officers to use body-worn cameras when implementing search and arrest warrants.
According to the new rule, law enforcers who fail to wear, interfere with, or manipulate the camera shall be liable for contempt of court. The new rule provides that law enforcers are required to wear at least one body camera and one alternative recording device. If the body cameras are unavailable, they are required to file a motion before the court and ask permission that they are allowed to use an alternative device for justifiable reasons. The cameras’ video and audio recording functions will be activated as soon as the officers arrive at the place of arrest and will be deactivated only once the arrest has been fully concluded and the law enforcers have taken the arrested person to the nearest detention facility. “Failure to observe the requirement for using body-worn cameras or alternative recording devices shall not render the arrest unlawful or render the evidence obtained inadmissible,” Administrative Matter No. 21-06-08-SC said. The said rule also makes it mandatory for law enforcers to activate the cameras’ video and audio recording functions upon arrival of the place to be searched.
One more salient feature of the administrative matter is to prohibit judges in Manila and Quezon City to authorize search operations outside their judicial regions. Human rights groups long decried that these judicial orders had become virtual “death warrants” for political activists and Red-tagged progressive groups. As Olalia stated in the aftermath of the SC’s junking of the search warrants in the Tumandok massacre, “this latest in a slow yet seemingly steady stream of trial courts’ decisions junking assailable search warrants is clear proof that roving or imported warrants solicited by the police was an idea gone wrong and abused.”
In sum, this new rule, if implemented properly, is a game changer. It will save lives. It will keep the Bill of Rights alive in this dark time of human rights in our country.
Thank you Chief Justice Gesmundo, Justice Marvic Leonen, and all our Associate Justices for keeping hope and the rule of just law alive.
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