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MANILA, Philippines – In the face of public pressure by leftist groups to investigate the issuance of search warrants that yielded arrests of at least 62 activists, the Supreme Court (SC) merely advised the groups’ lawyers to file the usual pleadings before local courts.
SC Spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said on Sunday, November 3, that Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta did order the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) to remind “judges to be deliberate, circumspect, and prudent with the issuances of warrants,” but the action is short of what the leftist groups want.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said on Sunday that the SC should not only investigate the specific action of Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos Villavert, who issued the search warrants, but also “review the rule on issuance of search warrants.”
“If respondents feel aggrieved with the issuance, the proper remedy is to file a motion to quash either before the court that issued them, or before the court where the cases are eventually filed,” said Hosaka, adding that the Rules of Court provide for the proper steps to initiate a complaint against a judge.
Pressed whether Peralta ordered a review of Villavert’s actions, Hosaka reiterated that “the order [of Peralta] is to remind to be deliberate, prudent, and circumspect on the issuances of search warrants.”
Villavert issued the search warrants on October 30 for offices of progressive groups in Bacolod City and the home of an activist couple in Manila. At least 62 activists were arrested in the raids in Bacolod and Manila on October 31.
The activists were eventually charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, the usual charges against progressives, in what rights groups called an obvious pattern of a “Tokhang-style” crackdown on the Left. Rights group Karapatan earlier said the firearms and explosives were planted.
SC Circular AM No. 03-8-02-SC authorizes the executive judges of Manila and Quezon City RTCs to issue search warrants to be served outside of their jurisdictions.
Hosaka said that when Peralta raised the issue with Court Administrator Midas Marquez, the latter “was quick to note” the circular.
“The court administrator…was quick to note that the executive judges of Manila and Quezon City are really authorized to issue search warrants which may be implemented nationwide in certain instances and provided that the legal requirements are met,” said Hosaka.
One of the legal requirements is that the “head of the agency” of the Philippine National Police (PNP) must “personally endorse” the application for a search warrant.
For the NUPL, this means the PNP chief himself, or in the absence of a chief, the officer-in-charge (OIC).
“Did the OIC PNP chief personally endorse the application for search warrant?” NUPL president Edre Olalia said.
Olalia added: “Why was there a need to apply for a search warrant in a faraway court when the same can be procured in a closer regional court without compromising secrecy and service of the warrant?“
When Peralta took office as chief justice, he said he would advocate for automatic probes in the judiciary where a complaint is not needed to investigate an action that seems irregular.
Pressed if the incident merits an automatic investigation by the Court, Hosaka said, “I cannot answer that for the Supreme Court yet.” – Rappler.com