Supreme Court of the Philippines

SC human rights committee vows to act on improving jails, detention centers

Jairo Bolledo
SC human rights committee vows to act on improving jails, detention centers

COURT OF LAST RESORT. The Supreme Court building in Padre Faura, Manila.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

SC Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen says his committee will review updates on protective writs and recommend how to further protect lawyers and judges

MANILA, Philippines – Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice (SAJ) Marvic Leonen, head of the High Court’s committee on human rights, said the body will push for the approval of the writ of kalayaan, which could help address the country’s problems with jails.

Leonen made the announcement during the unveiling of the human rights marker at the Supreme Court’s lobby on December 6 – ahead of International Human Rights Day on December 10.

The writ of kalayaan is an extraordinary legal remedy that persons deprived of liberty (PDL) can invoke when there is an extreme need for reliefs, given the poor conditions of jails or health factors. In 2020, Leonen said the writ should be issued “when all the requirements to establish cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment are present.”

The SC Public Information Office (PIO) said in a briefer: “He [Leonen] also disclosed that in the coming year, the SC Committee on Human Rights will work to recommend the approval of the writ of kalayaan, which can assist various individuals and communities as well as call the attention of specific courts regarding the condition of the country’s jails and detention centers.”

As of July 2022, the national congestion rate in jails stands at 396%, according to data from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP). This means around five PDLs are sharing a 4.7-square-meter space or a space intended for only one PDL. 

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The Commission on Audit, in its 2021 annual audit report, flagged the jail congestion, adding that the BJMP does not follow the United Nations’ standards, as well as BJMP’s own manual on jails. The bureau’s standards set the ideal habitable floor area per inmate at 4.7 square meters with one toilet, one wash area, and bath area.

On protective writs

The SC PIO also said, “SAJ Leonen further shared that the Committee on Human Rights ‘will also review the contents, impact, and operations of the writ of amparo, habeas data, and habeas corpus. It will do so in a consultative manner, involving not only the basic sectors, but government as well as uniformed services.'”

In 2020, the High Court already vowed to review the years-old rules on extraordinary legal remedies to determine how they can be used to protect progressive individuals and human rights defenders.

Given the attacks on progressive individuals, activists and victims of human rights violations often go to the courts seeking protective writs. During former president Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody drug war, the SC in August upheld a 2017 decision to issue a writ of amparo for the wife of a drug war victim who had appealed for protection.

In the case of those who had disappeared, the SC also compelled the military to face in court the families of the missing activists Elizabeth “Loi’ Magbanua and Alipio “Ador” Juat. In a later decision, the Court of Appeals ruled that the military was “accountable” for the disappearance of the two.

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Meanwhile, the senior justice also said they will act on the protection of lawyers and judges.

“Further, within the first half of next year, and based on the data so far collected from the deaths and threats in the past years, it will make recommendations to the Court En Banc as to how to further protect lawyers and judges.”

As of 2021, there have been at least 110 lawyers, judges, and prosecutors killed in the Philippines from 1977 to 2021. Of this number, 61 were killed under the Duterte administration. (READ: Lawyers killed: 61 under Duterte, 49 from Marcos to Aquino)

Recently, the High Court also acted on the threats against Manila Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar by former anti-insurgency spokesperson Lorraine Badoy. The SC had ordered Badoy to explain her “threats” against the judge. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering the police, crime, military, and security.