[From the web] LAWYERS URGE THE SUPREME COURT FOR REFORMS IN THE ISSUANCE OF SEARCH WARRANTS: Express concern over the use of court processes as cover to attack activists and dissenters | NUPL

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LAWYERS URGE THE SUPREME COURT FOR REFORMS IN THE ISSUANCE OF SEARCH WARRANTS: Express concern over the use of court processes as cover to attack activists and dissenters
22 March 2021

More than a hundred lawyers, law deans and legal luminaries today formally urged the Supreme Court, through a letter, to institute reforms in the issuance of search warrants, concerned that court processes have possibly been resorted to as false legal cover to attack activists and dissenters.

The letter, prompted by the number of deaths and arrests in the course of the implementation of search warrants, include, among others, the following proposals:

1) Review of A.M. No. 03-8-02-SC which authorizes Executive Judges of Manila and Quezon City or their Vice Executive Judges to issue, in special criminal cases, “remote or roving” search warrants that can be served anywhere in the country.
2) Applications for search warrants in the special criminal cases stated in A.M. No. 03-8-02-SC must be allowed to be filed only with the nearest court outside the locality where the place to be searched is located but within the judicial region of that place.
3) Requirement that applicants for search warrants must certify that they have not previously applied for a warrant in another court. If the same application for search warrant has been previously denied by another court, the police will be required to attach the records and order of the previous court.
4) Limitation on the number of search warrant applications to be heard by a judge and prohibiting wholesale applications of search warrants that will not afford judges the opportunity to conduct a thorough scrutiny of the application and conduct searching questions on the applicants and their witnesses.
5) Requirement that searches should be undertaken during office hours and not in the middle of the night and the deployment of body cameras or video recording devices to record the entire police operation, from initial entry to its conclusion.
6) Providing a procedure for the person/s subject of the search and by independent witnesses to confirm the veracity of any video recording. This could also include requiring a designated prosecutor, subject to security protocols, to accompany and witness the whole operation from the start to its conclusion.
7) Prohibition against any restraint, relocation, or arrest of the subject of the search or other persons unless they are engaged in the actual commission of an offense or there are compelling reasons to use reasonable force in implementing the search.
8.) Mandating that in search warrants that resulted in death during the implementation should be subject to automatic review by the Supreme Court. The Court may consider including or designating the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Commission on Human Rights, among others, to be part of the review process.

The issue of search warrants resulting in deaths and arrest of many activists and dissenters first gained notoriety when a search warrant issued by a Cebu court led to the death of 14 farmers in Negros Oriental on March 30, 2019. The applicant for these warrants was the PNP Central Visayas then headed by Gen. Debold Sinas.

The next series of warrants were issued by Quezon City courts starting November 2019 that also led to the death or arrest of activists in Manila, Bacolod City and other provinces. Gen. Sinas, who was then transferred to Metro Manila to head the NCRPO in October 2019, headed the PNP which applied for these warrants.

The latest of these killings were the killing of 9 indigenous people in Iloilo called “Tumandok” in December 2020 and the killing of 9 activists in Calabarzon in March 2021, on the claim of the police that they all fought back during the implementation of the warrant.

The letter and proposals were initially drafted by NUPL Chair Neri Colmenares and President Edre Olalia who then asked the comments and support of various lawyers.

At least 139 lawyers, law deans and legal luminaries have so far signed the proposed reforms, among them are:

a) Petitioners and lawyers against the anti-terror law such as Evalyn Ursua and Teddy Te, Sen. Rene Saguisag, Vice-Pres. Jejomar Binay, former Constitutional Commissioner Christian Monsod, former Solicitor General Joel Cadiz, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, Howard Calleja, Raffy Aquino, Dean Chel Diokno, Bantuas Lucman, and Cong. Edcel Lagman and Kit Belmonte.
b) Lawyers from law groups such as the Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL), the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), Centerlaw, The Public Interest Law Center (PILC), and Manananggol Laban sa EJK (Manlaban EJK).
Also among the signatories were former Sen. Wigberto Tanada, former Cong. Erin Tanada, 2019 Bar Topnotcher Mae Diane Azores, and Sen. Leila de Lima’s Chief of Staff Philip Sawali, Atty. Aaron Pedroza and Arpee Santiago of Ateneo Human Rights Center.
c) Law Deans and academics such as Dean Ada Abad of Adamson, former UP Dean Pacifico Agabin, former Ateneo Dean Tony La Vina, San Sebastian Dean Rodel Taton, and Ateneo de Davao Dean Manny Quibod.
The lawyers reiterated their concern that the number of deaths resulting from the execution of search warrants has grown to an alarming level and the need for the Court to initiate reforms to help ensure that judicial processes are not abused to violate the constitutional rights to life, liberty, security, and property of all Filipinos and particularly, based on recent events, activists and dissenters.

Neri Colmenares
NUPL Chairperson
Edre U. Olalia
NUPL President

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