Review rule on issuance of search warrants, lawyers urge SC
MANILA, Philippines — More than 100 lawyers on Monday made fresh calls to the Supreme Court to institute reforms in the issuance of search warrants as they expressed concern that these were being misused to attack government critics.
Led by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), some 139 counsels asked the high court to “take immediate, concrete and responsive action” amid the killings and arrests of activists in the implementation of search warrants issued by Metro Manila judges.
In their letter, the lawyers proposed a review of the rule allowing executive judges of Manila and Quezon City to issue search warrants for select criminal offenses that could be implemented nationwide.
The lawyers said applications for search warrants must be allowed to be filed only with the nearest court outside the locality where the place to be searched is located but within the judicial region of that area.
They added that applicants for search warrants must certify that they have not previously applied for a warrant in another court.
“If the same application for a search warrant had been previously denied by another court, the police will be required to attach the records and order issued by the previous court,” they said.
The lawyers’ proposal also included a limitation on the number of search warrant applications to be heard by a judge and a prohibition against wholesale applications.
They proposed further that searches be done during office hours and not in the middle of the night, and that body cameras or video recording devices be furnished to record the entire police operation.
This could include requiring a designated prosecutor, subject to security protocols, to accompany and witness the whole operation.
The lawyers also called for a prohibition against any restraint, relocation or arrest of the subject of the search warrant or other persons unless they are engaged in the actual commission of an offense or there are compelling reasons to use reasonable force.
“Search warrants that result in death during the implementation should be subject to automatic review by the [Supreme Court]. The court may consider including or designating the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Commission on Human Rights, among others, to be part of the review process,” they said.
The lawyers said the number of deaths resulting from the execution of search warrants has grown to an alarming level.
“We ask the court to initiate reforms to help ensure that judicial processes are not abused to violate the constitutional rights to life, liberty, security and property of all Filipinos and particularly based on recent events, activists and dissenters,” they said.
Among the latest incidents wherein search warrants may have been misused by law enforcers is the series of raids in the Calabarzon region on March 7 that left nine activists dead.
The signatories in the joint letter to the Supreme Court include former Vice President Jejomar Binay; former Senators Rene Saguisag and Wigberto Tañada; former congressman Erin Tañada; incumbent congressmen Edcel Lagman, Kit Belmonte and Carlos Zarate; and 1986 constitutional commissioner Christian Monsod.
Law deans Chel Diokno of De La Salle University, Ada Abad of Adamson University and Rodel Taton of San Sebastian College; and former deans Pacifico Agabin of the University of the Philippines, Tony La Viña of Ateneo de Manila and Manny Quibod of Ateneo de Davao also signed the letter.
Lawyers representing NUPL, Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties, Free Legal Assistance Group, Centerlaw, Public Interest Law Center and Manananggol Laban sa EJK also supported the call for reforms.
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