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Sereno: Special committee evaluating rules to address extrajudicial killings

MANILA, Philippines – Can the courts do more in the face of increasing killings in the government's bloody war on drugs?

Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said on Thursday, August 24, that a human rights committee is evaluating whether there are sufficient rules to address the problem. Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang is the head of the committee, according to Sereno.

"The problem is we have a constitution that places the judiciary at the end of the process... We do not do investigations, we do not file cases, the limitations remain," Sereno said.

But what the SC can do is issue new rules or writs that would set in place mechanisms to protect citizens and their rights to due process.

An example is the existing writ of habeas corpus, which says that an arrested individual has to be brought to court within a designated period of time to determine if the arrest and detention are valid.

There is also the writ of amparo, a remedy that serves to protect constitutional rights perceived to be in danger.

Back in January, the SC issued a writ of amparo to Efren Morillo of Payatas, who claimed to be the sole survivor of an execution-style killing by police during a drug raid. This petition for a writ of amparo was the very first legal challenge against President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war.

"How do we account for the number of violent deaths that are being seen right now? ... We are in the process of evaluating," Sereno said.

New writs?

The Center for International Law (CenterLaw), who represented Morillo in the amparo petition, also filed a petition before the SC last April, seeking the issuance of a new rule – the writ contra homo sacer.

The writ contra homo sacer will provide for mandatory inquest proceedings whenever someone is killed from either legitimate police operations or vigilante-style killings. It proposes to bring to the judicial system every drug-related death.

"The executive implements the law and has the sole monopoly of the use of force. When force is used and results in death ... legal questions come in and that are brought before the courts so the court can step in [but] so far we have not had so many questions brought before us," Sereno said.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has yet to provide data on how many cases of extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs have been handled by prosecutors nationwide.

CenterLaw has filed murder complaints against cops before the Office of the Ombudsman.

'Rise up'

Sereno is in Cebu for her annual "Meet the Press" event, which coincides with her 5th anniversary as Chief Justice. She was appointed as head of the judiciary by then president Benigno Aquino III on August 24, 2012.

In her speech before the media panel, Sereno said the pursuit of the rule of law is "not just mere rhetoric."

"The reforms are stirred by empathy for marginalized Filipinos who feel the justice system is rigged against them," the Chief Justice said.

The war on drugs has been criticized as anti-poor, with small-time dealers and users ending up dead but big fish seemingly getting away.

Sereno also addressed the youth and told them to "relentlessly" pursue justice and rule of law.

"When the old and jaded tell you to accept status quo, stand your ground, rise up to be better than your elders... Hold on to your principles even if to do so is inconvenient." – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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