MANILA, Philippines — The National Union of Peoples Lawyers on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to include “more safeguards” other than requiring body cameras for law enforcers in its resolution to be issued in the wake of killings of activists in search warrant implementations.
NUPL Secretary General Rey Cortez told ANC on Wednesday that they welcome SC discussions on a proposal to require police and military officers to wear body cameras in serving warrants.
The SC is acting on its own, or doing this in motu propio. Although no petition has been directly filed on this, rights groups and public rights defenders have been pressing the high court to review the issuance of search warrants that led to arrests and, in worse cases, killings of activists.
But Cortez noted that the issue is complex and “wearing of body cam will only solve a part of the problem.” He added they are hoping that the SC will include in its resolution other safeguards.
“Law enforcers are really, really very creative when they enforce search warrants. It’s not the usual operations that we see in all implementations that we have encountered,” he said.
Cortez explained that in the cases the NUPL handled, the implementation of warrants has two stages: In the first, law enforcers barge in houses, usually at midnight, take in custody all occupants in house, herd them outside or in one place of the house and conduct a search.
A second team would later come in with the required witnesses, such as a barangay official. This is when the authorities will find alleged firearms and explosives.
“We would like this resolution be viewed [in this context]. If in the first time, [they] won’t wear body cameras, we will not see the planting of evidence and irregularities even just in entering the residences,” he added partly in Filipino.
Cortez also asked the SC to consider how the search warrants were issued in the first place. He noted that the Office of the Court Administrator report to Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta stated that for raids in Calabarzon, 63 applications were filed in Manila on March 1 and nine others in Antipolo.
The applications in Manila were divided among four executive judges. After two days of hearings, law enforcers obtained 42 search warrants in Manila and four in Antipolo for simultaneous raids on March 7.
“Lawyers who are engaged in litigation know for a fact that one hour is not enough to finish examination of witnesses, especially that Constitution provides strict guidelines on issuance of warrants,” he said. This includes probing questions to witnesses.
“Two days [of hearing], 15 [applications] each [judge] is not sufficient to conduct probing questions,” he added.
Court Administrator Midas Marquez, in his report to Peralta, noted that “the issuance of the search warrants by the judges and their service implementation by the law enforcers are two different acts.”
But NGO Defend Southern Tagalog asserted the OCA cannot draw a line between the issuance and implementations of warrants “considering the numerous, one-time application of search warrants, which resembled a poor copy-paste job.”
They also raised fears of more warrants to be issued against activists and organizers. “Just as what happened with farmers in Negros island, there are waves to these operations. And with a minimum of 22 warrants still hanging by our heads, there is reason to expect more to be arrested and killed using the same tactics,” the group also said. — Kristine Joy Patag
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