Supreme Court of the Philippines

Supreme Court promises to review and strengthen protective writs

Lian Buan
Supreme Court promises to review and strengthen protective writs
'I'm very certain that Chief Justice Peralta will welcome the review of the rules of the writ of amparo,' says Court Administrator Midas Marquez

The Supreme Court would review the 13-year-old rules on the extraordinary protective writs to see how these can be strengthened to protect activists and human rights defenders.

“We will review the procedure for the writ of amparo and we will see how we can strengthen the writ of amparo and in effect strengthen those who come before the courts, those who go to our courts to ask for protection,” Court Administrator Midas Marquez told lawmakers Thursday, September 10, during the House of Representatives’ deliberations on the judiciary’s budget for 2021.

The rules on the writs of amparo and habeas data were promulgated in 2007 during the time of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to respond to the high number of extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

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But activists, human rights defenders and even a politician allied with President Rodrigo Duterte have suffered from straight losses in these petitions due to different interpretations of the procedures.

The privilege of the writ of amparo would be a protection order, which is a form of a restraining order, and the privilege of the writ of habeas data would compel the government to destroy damaging information.

Negros activist Zara Alvarez, named in the now-withdrawn Department of Justice (DOJ) terrorist list, had pleaded the court in 2019 for a protection order, but she was denied by the Court of Appeals. Alvarez was shot to death in Bacolod last August 17.

If the court cannot protect them, where can Filipinos run to?

Carlos Zarate, Bayan Muna Representative

“If the court cannot protect them, where can Filipinos run to?” progressive Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate said during Thursday’s budget hearing in Filipino.

That’s when Marquez committed the Supreme Court into reviewing the procedures. Marquez said Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta is the chairperson of the Court’s Rules Committee.

“I’m very certain that Chief Justice Peralta will welcome the review of the rules of the writ of amparo,” Marquez said.

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Zara Alvarez asked for protection, but she died before the court could give it

Zara Alvarez asked for protection, but she died before the court could give it

Marquez appealed to lawmakers on Thursday to add P6.58 billion to their 2021 budget which currently stands at P43.54 billion. The Judiciary’s budget in 2020 was P41.23 billion – these include the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Court of Tax Appeals, Sandiganbayan and all lower courts.

Key role

Former Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te said that what weakened the writs was the 2015 case Zarate vs Aquino where the Supreme Court denied activists the privileges of the writs of amparo and habeas data, saying that their inclusion in military intelligence lists “has no direct relation to the circumstances (they) experienced.”

Te encouraged activists and lawyers to file appropriate cases and give the Court a chance to “roll back some of these rulings that have not helped the writ.”

The Court of Appeals’ denial of Alvarez and group’s petition have been elevated to the Supreme Court.

This issue has drawn comparisons between the 2007 Court led by former chief justice Reynato Puno, which acted as a judicial activist under Arroyo, and the Peralta Court which is battling perceptions of partiality to the Duterte administration.

Human rights lawyers said the Supreme Court would play a key role in “saving democracy” as civil liberties are threatened not just by violations but by legislations like the anti-terror law. – 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.