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SC studying expansion of ‘writ of amparo’–Chief Justice

Posted by Abi Kwok on August 28, 2008

By Tetch Torres, Abigail Kwok
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 12:07:00 08/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE) The Supreme Court is studying the expansion of the powers of the writ of amparo to cover not only extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances but also to protect the economic, social, and cultural rights of the poor, Chief Justice Reynato Puno said Thursday.

Puno disclosed this in his speech at the “Kabuhayan, Karapatan, Katarungan,” a forum on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: Violations and Remedies at the College of Law of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

“We are also studying the possibility of widening the coverage of the writ of amparo by providing protection to economic, social, and cultural rights, including protection against demolitions and bringing the judiciary closer to the poor,” Puno said in Filipino.

He also cited the report released by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) that stated a “significant decrease” in the number of extrajudicial killings this year, saying this should all the more prompt for the expansion of the writ of amparo.

“Marahil ay dapat talagang pag-aralan na palawigin pa ang proteksyon ng writ of amparo [Perhaps there is really a need to study the expansion of the coverage of protection provided by the writ of amparo],” Puno said.

The CHR released on Wednesday a report saying that the number of extrajudicial killings has “significantly dropped” by as much as 70 percent compared to that of 2005.

During the forum, militant groups from the children, labor, agricultural, and environmental sectors also presented their problems and recommendations to Puno, underscoring the need for accessible justice to the poor.

Lawyer Jules Matibag from the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) 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 where the subject of the complaint could file countersuits that would seek appropriate actions on damages caused by the SLAPP complaint.

Puno also assured militant groups in the forum that he would give attention to their problems and recommendations, “to respond to the SLAPP cases that are being used to confuse and stop the upholding of economic, social, and cultural rights under the Constitution. Part of this will also be the SLAPP back action for damages against those filing senseless SLAPP cases. We will also study processes that are being implemented in Canada, US, and Europe where SLAPP cases and SLAPP back actions originated.”

Puno said other proposals that the Supreme Court would be closely looking into would include:

Making bail bonds free in special cases, including those covering indigenous people and marginalized groups;

Decreasing the filing fees and prohibiting the selling per page of transcript of stenographic notes, which Puno said was sold “triple-spaced na nagdadagdag gastos sa pagsasampa ng mga complaints [that add to the cost of filing complaints]”;

Creating “legal clinics” with the help of the Public Attorney’s Office, CHR, and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) that will aim to increase the knowledge of residents and indigenous groups about their legal rights; and,

Removing the language barrier in delivering justices to the poor, particularly to indigenous groups.

“I will give attention to your proposals. Everything that you’ve said were true… especially about the elite-dominated constitutional government system. Only those who are blind and deaf cannot see the truth and that truth has been taught long ago,” Puno said in Filipino.

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