Killings show PNP abuse of warrants, lawyers say
MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court should come out with clear guidelines for judges in issuing search warrants following what Vice President Leni Robredo has condemned as the “massacre” of nine activists in simultaneous police operations in provinces near Manila recently, a group of lawyers said on Tuesday.
Antonio La Viña, dean of Ateneo de Manila University’s School of Government, lamented that such court orders have been used as “death warrants” against members of militant organizations.
“I call on judges to be careful because the search and arrest warrants are also becoming ‘death warrants,’ which is a violation of the Bill of Rights,” La Viña said in a press briefing.
Human rights and activist groups questioned the police practice of getting warrants from courts outside the jurisdiction of their targets, which had led to killings, the latest on Sunday in the Calabarzon region, which the police explained had resulted from “nanlaban,” or resistance by the victims.
Public Interest Law Center lawyer Kristina Conti said that while her group was considering legal remedies against the abuse of a Supreme Court circular that allowed courts in Metro Manila to issue search warrants in places outside the national capital, its main call was for the police to “stick to the rules and apply with the court of jurisdiction.”
‘Judges should be circumspect’
“Our main point is that judges should also be circumspect as to their appreciation of witnesses who might not be telling the truth. In relation to venue and applying specifically, take in consideration how and why a witness in an illegal possession case in Bacolod, for example, [could] be present in Quezon City,” she explained.
“A legitimate question the public wants to be addressed is: whether or not the judges issuing these search warrants clueless, careless, or complicit?” National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia said.
Even before this, critics have been sounding the alarm against SC Circular No. 3-8-2-SC, saying that the search warrants issued by Metro Manila judges were being “weaponized” to target critics of the government.
Under Sec. 12 of the circular, the Manila and Quezon City executive judges can act on applications filed by the PNP, National Bureau of Investigation and the Anti-Crime Task Force for search warrants involving heinous crimes, illegal gambling, illegal possession of firearms and ammunitions as well as violations of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.
These applications must be “personally endorsed by the heads of such agencies and shall particularly describe therein the places to be searched and/or the property or things to be seized as prescribed in the Rules of Court.”
Based on verified facts
These warrants may be served outside the territorial jurisdiction of Manila and Quezon City courts.
Sunday’s raids were against several members of militant organizations Bayan, Karapatan and Kilusang Mayo Uno.
The police had obtained warrants to search for firearms and explosives issued by Manila Vice Executive Judge Jose Lorenzo dela Rosa and Branch 174 Judge Jason Zapanta.
But Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana, spokesperson for the Philippine National Police, on Tuesday said the warrants from the different courts were “in strict compliance with standard legal procedures.”
“It was based on verified facts and not on mere membership or affiliation with any organization (of those who were targeted),” Usana said.
Regarding the deaths of the nine people whose names were indicated in the search warrants, he said that police operatives exerted all possible means to “peacefully serve the search warrants.”
“They are however, trained to defend themselves against any unlawful aggression,” he pointed out.
Usana claims that the subjects of the search warrants had not engaged officers in armed clashes and that the evidence against them were planted were all “baseless” and “unfounded.”
“(The allegations) only serve to undermine the wisdom of the courts and the legitimacy of police operations,” he said.
Usana assured the public that the PNP internal affairs service would investigate the conduct of the police operations, particularly where people were killed.
Warrant from Manila served in Panay
According to documents provided by Karapatan, Dela Rosa issued at least three warrants allowing police to search the homes of Bayan-Cavite spokesperson Emmanuel Asuncion, Bayan-Laguna spokesperson Elizabeth Camoral and labor leader Esteban Mendoza.
Asuncion was killed at his home-office in Dasmariñas City, Cavite, about an hour away from his main residence in Rosario where raiders said they found a .45 cal pistol.
Camoral and Mendoza were arrested for alleged possession of one hand grenade.
The judge also issued a warrant used in the December police operation on Panay Island that led to the killing of nine members of the Tumandok indigenous community which opposed a dam project. Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said the police “can now simply allege that they are in possession of such and that would be enough for the judge to issue a warrant against you.”
“The judges … cannot simply serve a ministerial role and appear to be impartial and therefore cannot be held accountable. These judges are responsible in the killings of people because they issued warrants that justify the entry in the premises of these activists,” he said.
“It is time for the SC to step in,” he added. “There is already a pattern of abuse in the implementation of the law.”
Olalia said it was “entirely possible” that the judges did not probe the applicants of the search warrants, considering the similarities in the allegations against those targeted.
‘We’re human, too’
An activist who was staying with Asuncion and his wife, Liezel, said he heard the Bayan spokesperson shout, “We’re human, too” moments before he heard multiple gunshots.
The 27-year-old activist, who requested not to be identified for his safety, said loud knocks woke them up around 5:30 a.m. on Sunday.
“When I went down to get my phone, the police were already inside,” he told the Inquirer by phone.
He said he repeatedly asked to see the warrant but the officers refused.
After a few minutes, several of them led him out of the house, followed by Liezel shortly after.
“(Liezel) kept telling them to bring Kuya Manny outside because he’d oblige (to an arrest) anyway.
Then I heard Kuya Manny shout something, ‘We’re human, too’ before the shots rang out from the second floor. I don’t recall anymore how many (shots) but there were a lot,” the activist said.
He said officers later told Liezel to sign a blank evidence report, “which meant they didn’t find anything” at the Dasmariñas home-office where their search warrant was for a hand grenade.
Sunday’s raid in Dasmariñas was one of the 24 separately carried out across Cavite, Laguna, Batangas and Rizal by the police.
Activists of varied causes
On Tuesday, in addition to Asuncion, Karapatan identified four of the nine who were killed — brothers Abner and Edward Esto, members of an urban poor group in Rodriguez, Rizal; and cousins Puroy and Randy dela Cruz, members of the Dumagat indigenous people in Tanay, Rizal, and the environmental group Protect Sierra Madre.
“There is no other way to describe this: It was a massacre,” Robredo said in a statement on Tuesday.
“We call for an independent and impartial investigation (into the raids) to ensure that the perpetrators will be brought to justice,” she added.
But presidential spokesperson Harry Roque chided Robredo for making such allegations.
“If she personally saw the events, she should provide evidence. By her words, it’s as if she saw with her own two eyes what had happened. If she can’t provide evidence, it’s an offense, she could be sued,” Roque said.
The Department of Justice said it will be studying whether the killings could be investigated by the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons, which was created by Administrative Order No. 35 issued in 2012.
Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay said those who died must first be confirmed as legitimate activists.
“Because if they are not, what will happen is that it should be brought before the police, the ordinary processes of the police,” Sugay said.
—WITH REPORTS FROM JEROME ANING, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, MARICAR CINCO AND DELFIN T. MALLARI JR.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.