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Thursday, December 7, 2023

SC blasts threats, killings of lawyers, red-tagging judges

The Supreme Court on Tuesday denounced in strongest possible terms every instance where a lawyer or judge is threatened or killed, saying to threaten the judges and lawyer is considered an assault on the judiciary and the Rule of Law.

In a statement read by SC spokesman and lawyer Brian Keith Hosaka, the 15-member bench headed by Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta also vowed to take several courses of action to address rising cases of killings of lawyers and threats to judges in the country.

“The Court condemns in the strongest sense every instance where a lawyer is threatened or killed, and where a judge is threatened and unfairly labeled. We do not and will not tolerate such acts that only perverse justice, defeat the rule of law, undermine the most basic of constitutional principles, and speculate on the worth of human lives,” the SC stressed.

“The Judiciary is one of the three pillars of our republican democracy, which itself hangs on a careful balance between and among governmental powers. To threaten our judges and our lawyers is no less than an assault on the Judiciary. To assault the Judiciary is to shake the very bedrock on which the rule of law stands. This cannot be allowed in a civilized society like ours. This cannot go undenounced on the Court's watch,” the high court said.

The SC issued the statement after it received letters and manifestations from various groups, particularly lawyers’ groups, on threats and killings of lawyers, including prosecutors and judges.

Among these letters and manifestations were filed by lawyers who are counsels in 37 petitions that challenged the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 filed before the SC, statement of concerns of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the University of the Philippines College of Law, and the Free Legal Assistance Group.

Reports showed that more than 60 lawyers, including prosecutors and judges, have been killed since 2016.

“We do not and will not tolerate such acts that only perverse justice, defeat the rule of law, undermine the most basic of constitutional principles, and speculate on the worth of human lives,” the SC magistrates stressed.

“We are aware that there are wayward elements who, in their zeal to do what they think is necessary, would simply brush aside the limitations in our law as mere obstacles,” it said.

“This should never be countenanced, for it is only in the enjoyment of our inalienable and indivisible rights that our freedoms become meaningful,” it added.

The SC pointed out that the Court is mindful that nothing prevents it from standing by all court officers, judges, and lawyers alike, as it now does in no uncertain terms.

“This principle is not in debate but has remained fixed on administering justice amid a history of shifting social and political tides. Every threat to a lawyer or a judge that prevents them from exercising their functions has very serious repercussions on the ideal that the rule of law must be accessible in an impartial and transparent manner to all parties. Every right guaranteed in the Constitution must be protected,” it said.

The 15-member bench also agreed to take five courses of action to address the threats and killings of lawyers in the country.

“First, we have requested our lower courts, as well as the various law enforcement offices, to furnish us with relevant information to shed light on the number and context of each and every threat or killing of a lawyer or judge within the past 10 years.

“We also urge the public—including public interest organizations, lawyers and judges’ groups—to provide us with vetted information on any incident of such threat or killing. We ask that this be done within the remainder of this month and the whole month of April. We are designating the Court’s Public Information Office to receive and collate these data and provide us with a report prior to our deliberations en banc scheduled for the last week of April 2021,” it said.

“Second, while this is ongoing, the Court En Banc has resolved to work on, deliberate, and promulgate rules on the use of body cameras for the service of search and arrest warrants. This is without prejudice to the Court’s deliberations on whether we can cover with our rules of procedure the conduct of buy-bust operations in the enforcement of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.

“Third, we have ordered the Office of the Court Administrator to: (1) coordinate with the relevant law enforcement agencies to investigate the most recent incident of a judge being the subject of a tarpaulin linking her to organizations considered by law enforcers as communists and rebels; and (2) survey among trial court and Shari’a judges the extent of threats they have received within the last 10 years. The resulting report would be the basis of further action by the Court.

“We have coordinated with all concerned to provide security and counseling to the judges concerned. The Court is ready to provide or coordinate security arrangements for any judge or justice that is similarly threatened.

“Fourth, we are referring all letters that contain specific incidents to the relevant trial courts, which will then order the parties to convert such letters into the proper remedies, such as but not limited to petitions for the writs of amparo or habeas data.

“Fifth, in all these processes, we will endeavor to coordinate through existing mechanisms with all concerned groups, whether belonging to civil society or law enforcement.”

The SC also encouraged lawyers who have experienced harassment, or whose clients have experienced threats or harassment, to file the necessary motions in pending cases, petitions, or complaints in order that our courts may receive the evidence, determine the facts, and, based on the issues framed, provide the relevant reliefs for each case.”

The high court also exhorted the entire judiciary and all members of the legal profession “to remain strong, steadfast, and unwavering in the duties they swore an oath to fulfill.”

“At no more fitting time than now should the Judiciary remain undaunted, with a clear vision of taking courage, enforcing the law, and upholding the supremacy of the Constitution,” the SC said.

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