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A ‘breakthrough’ in proposed ‘amparo’ expansion–militants

Posted by Abi Kwok on August 28, 2008

By Abigail Kwok
First Posted 15:26:00 08/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Militant groups saw a “breakthrough” in the statement of Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno to study the expansion of the coverage of the writ of amparo to include the economic, social, and cultural, rights of the poor.

Bayan (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, New Patriotic Alliance) secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said Puno’s statement was a “breakthrough” and an “achievement” for militant groups.

“Mabigat yung binitawan niya [What he said carried weight]. The fact that they are thinking of expanding the writ of amparo…if that will come through then that is a big achievement,” he said.

The country’s writ of amparo currently covers only extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. But Puno said that he would closely study the possibility of expanding the coverage of the writ, including “protecing urban poor groups against demolitions and bringing judicial structures within reach for the poor,” he said in Filipino.

The left-leaning fisherfolk group Pamalakaya (Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas, National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines), that had proposed the expansion of the writ, said Puno’s statement was “very positive.”

Pamalakaya information officer Gerry Corpuz said that they would use this to their advantage.

“We will avail of this legal remedy to protect us from unjust and unlawful demolitions, against militarization, and criminalization of disputes,” he said.

But Reyes said that the expansion would only solve the “short term” problems of the poor and the marginalized sectors in society.

“It is only a short term protection. For example, it will not be able to solve the landlessness of the farmers pero magbibigay ito ng proteksyon para hindi agad makamkam yung lupa ng mga magsasaka [but this will give them protection so that they would not lose their land],” he said.

Several militant groups submitted their proposals to Puno in a forum titled “Kabuhayan, Karapatan, Katarungan: a forum on economic, social, and cultural rights: Violations and Remedies” at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City.

Leaders of labor, youth, agricultural, and environment groups pointed out problems in their respective societies and pointed out the need for amending a “pro-elite” justice system.

“We all know that we live and suffer in a stratifed society and under a government that is dominated by a tiny elite.
This tiny elite has a monopoly of political power and economic resources, which they use and often abuse to tilt the scales of justice in their favor,” said lawyer Romulo Capulong, chairman of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL).

In their presentation to Puno, NUPL’s lawyer Jules Matibag Lawyer said there was a need to protect the poor from SLAPP, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. These SLAPP cases, he said, were particularly targeted towards the poor and marginalized sectors in society, prohibiting them from practicing their basic constitutional rights.

“Ang mga SLAPP cases na ito ay may layuning manakot, manggipit, at magpahirap sa publiko tulad na lang nga mga [These SLAPP cases are meant to sow fear, pressure, and make it difficult for the public like the] multimillion libel cases, slander…that people feel it difficult to pursue justice,” Matibag said.

He added that the usual victims of SLAPP cases were students, media, residents, and indigenous groups.

Matibag proposed “SLAPP back” cases and protection against warrantless arrests where the subject of the complaint could file countersuits that would seek appropriate actions on damages caused by the SLAPP complaint.

The left-leaning fisherfolk group Pamalakaya (Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas, National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines) said usual problems confronted by fishermen include overpricing of fishing materials, high prices of fuel, and the demolition of fishing villages. Pamalakaya national chairman Fernando Hicap said there was a need for justices to undergo “immersions” in fishing villages to see first-hand the problems of the fishermen.

“Dapat magkaroon din ng pagrepaso at pagtanggal sa mga batas na anti-mangingisda [Laws against fishermen should be amended or repealed],” he added.

The farmer group KMP (Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Peasant Movement of the Philippines) said that landlessnes, caused by ejectment and the cancellation of emancipation patents (EPs), was the main problem of farmers.

“Kami ang nagsasaing pero pag naluto iba ang kumakain [We cook the rice but someone else eats it],” said KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos.

Puno assured groups that all their problems would be put into consideration by the Supreme Court. He added that for the meantime, SC would be focusing on their “Justice on Wheels” and bringing justice to villages and far-off places.

He said that “Justice on Wheels” would be going to war-torn Mindanao in the next few weeks.

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