Yearender: SC confronts human rights violations, unsolved slays

Published by rudy Date posted on January 1, 2008

Chief Justice Reynato Puno introduced far-reaching reforms in the judiciary as 2007 was coming to a close, making authorities answerable to allegations of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

The year 2007 also saw the appointment of two new Supreme Court justices: former Court of Appeals presiding justice Rene Reyes and former Sandiganbayan presiding justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro.

A lay preacher of the United Methodist Church, Puno was named the 22nd chief justice by President Arroyo on Dec. 6, 2006.

As early as March, the SC had designated 23 regional trial courts in Metro Manila as special courts to hear cases of unexplained killings.

The SC issued guidelines to help the special courts determine whether the crime charged is a “political killing.” The special courts must consider the following:

• Political affiliation of the victim;
• Method of attack; and
• Reports that state agents were involved in the commission of the crime or have acquiesced to them.

Puno said the creation of the special courts aims to resolve such killings. The first and foremost of human rights is the right to life,” he said. “It has long been accorded universal status, for the existence of all other rights is premised on the preservation of life. The extrajudicial taking of life is the ultimate violation of human rights.

“It cannot be allowed anywhere, and it has to be resisted everywhere. Extrajudicial killings also constitute brazen assaults on the rule of law.

“It is the constitutional duty of our judiciary to protect the rule of law and we will link with all efforts to prevent its erosion.”

On July 16, participants at a two-day conference on extrajudicial killings sponsored by the SC agreed that the writ of habeas corpus has become ineffective in making authorities bring out the so-called desapericidos or victims of enforced disappearances. Authorities can simply deny that the missing are in their custody.

On Oct. 24, the SC came up with a tougher judicial remedy: the writ of amparo, under which respondents cannot just deny custody of a missing person.

Puno said the writ of amparo will not allow authorities the defense of denial when a court orders them to produce a victim of enforced disappearance.

The writ of amparo allows courts to issue inspection orders and to direct any person in possession or control of a designated land or other property to permit entry for the purpose of inspecting, measuring, surveying, or photographing the property or any object relevant to the petition, he added.

Since the writ’s implementation, at least nine petitions have already been filed before the Supreme Court, including the cases of two missing students of the University of the Philippines and political activist Jonas Burgos.

The CA has issued a writ of amparo ordering police and military officials to disclose what steps they have taken to find Jonas.

Puno also said that he would make use of the SC’s powers under the Constitution to institute rules that will help safeguard human rights.

“Oftentimes, however, human rights cases are low profile, especially when they affect the marginalized, or people whose existence some would hardly recognize or worse, people dismissed as the invisibles of society,” he said.

Puno said the Constitution has empowered the SC through an expanded rule-making power to put an end to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

“We cannot, nor do we wish, to wash our hands of the responsibility of putting an end to extralegal killings, despite how easy it is to lay the blame on another branch of government,” he said.

“We cannot in good conscience use the passive excuse that we are only empowered to decide cases brought to us by the prosecution.”

During the past year, the SC also focused on cleansing the Judiciary of corrupt judges.

Last March, Puno banned spouses of justices from being employed as staff members in the SC, Court of Tax Appeals, Sandiganayan and the Court of Appeals.

His order is in line with the letter and the spirit of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary calling for a

Judiciary that is above suspicion, he added.

In the same month, Puno summoned all 17 chairpersons of the CA divisions  to a meeting to personally air his concern over allegations of corruption involving some appellate court justices.

Puno dismissed from the service CA Justice Elvi John Asuncion for undue delay in the disposal of pending motions for reconsideration in several cases, gross ignorance of the law and manifest undue interest.

Records show that Puno had dismissed five lower court judges from January to December 2007 for reasons of corruption. In addition, 55 judges have been either suspended, fined, or reprimanded for various administrative offenses.

Special courts

The special courts for these cases are set up as follows: three special courts each in Manila (Branches 26, 39, 50), Quezon City (Branches 95, 97, & 219), and Makati City (Branches 133, 148, & 150) and two Special Courts each in the cities of Pasay (Branches 114 & 118), Kalookan (Branches 129 & 131), and Pasig (Branches 157 & 265). One Special Court each was designated in the cities of Taguig (Branch 271),  San Juan (Branch 160), Malabon (Branch 73), Marikina (Branch 263), Mandaluyong (Branch 212), Parañaque (Branch 260), Las Piñas (Branch 255), and Muntinlupa (Branch 204).

A total 76 RTCs in the 12 Judicial Regions were designated as special courts. These are Baguio City RTC Branch 5; La Trinidad Benguet RTC Branch 62; Laoag City RTC Branch 14; San Fernando City, La Union

RTC Branch 28; Lingayen, Pangasinan RTC Branch 37; Dagupan City RTC Branch 41; Urdaneta City RTC Branch 46; Tuguegarao City RTC Branch 3, Aparri Cagayan RTC

Branch 6; Ilagan, Isabela RTC Branch 17, Santiago City RTC Branch 35; Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya RTC Branch 28;

Also designated as special courts are Balanga City RTC Branch 3; Malolos City RTC Branch 14; Cabanatuan City RTC Branch 24; Guimba, Neva Ecija RTC Branch 33; Gapan

City RTC Branch 35; Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija RTC Branch 37; City of San Fernando, Pampanga RTC Branch 46; Guagua, Pampanga RTC Branch 51; Angeles City RTC Branch 61; Tarlac City RTC Branch 65; Iba, Zambales RTC Branch 70; Olongapo City RTC Branch 73; Batangas City RTC Branch 3; Balayan, Batangas RTC Branch 10;

Lipa City RTC Branch 85; Cavite City RTC Branch 88; Imus, Cavite RTC Branch 26; Sta. Cruz, Laguna RTC Branch 28; San Pablo City RTC Branch 29; Calamba City RTC Branch 35; Puerto Princesa City RTCBranch 51;

Lucena City RTC Branch 56; Binangonan, Rizal RTC Branch 69; Antipolo City RTC Branch 73; Morong, Rizal RTC Branch 79;

Legazpi City RTC Branch 6, Ligao City RTC Branch 14;  Tabaco City RTC Branch 18; Daet, Camarines Norte RTC Branch 40; Naga City RTC Branch 25; Libmanan, Camarines Sur RTC Branch 29; Pili, Camarines Sur RTC

Branch 31; Iriga City RTC Branch 36; Masbate City RTC Branch 45; Sorsogon City RTC Branch 53; Kalibo, Aklan RTC Branch 9; San Jose, Antique, RTC Branch 11; Roxas City RTC Branch 18; Iloilo City RTC

Branches 26, 31, & 38; Bacolod City RTC Branch 48; Tagbilaran City RTC Branch 49; Cebu City RTC Branches 7 & 21; Lapu-lapu City RTC Branch 53; Mandaue City RTC

Branch 28; Dumaguete City RTC Branches 34 & 38; Tacloban City RTC Branch 9; Catbalogan, Samar RTC Branch 29; Dipolog City RTC Branch 8; Zamboanga City RTC Branch 16; Pagadian City RTC Branch 21; Butuan City RTC Branch 5; Malaybalay City RTC Branch 10; Oroquieta City RTC Branch 12; Cagayan de Oro City RTC Branch 18; Tagum City RTC Branch 1; Davao City RTC

Branch 11; Digos City RTC Branch 18; General Santos City RTC Branch 35; Iligan City RTC Branch 3; and Marawi City RTC Branch 10.–Mike Frialde, Philippine Star

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