Lawyers score SC victories vs army harassment, West PH Sea neglect

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) gave back-to-back victories to human rights groups on Friday, May 3, after it issued writs of amparo and kalikasan against military harassment and environmental neglect in the West Philippine Sea.

Both petitions sued the Duterte administration.

The SC announced on Friday that after its special en banc session, the justices decided to grant the petitions of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) which complained of harassment from the military and Malacañang; and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) with senatorial bet Chel Diokno which complained of neglect in enforcing environmental laws in the West Philippine Sea.

"It also sends a strong and clear signal to the military and government officials alike, as well as their proxies or agents, that there are certain well-defined rules of evidence not incompatible with basic fairness, decency, common sense and logic that must be observed," NUPL president Edre Olalia said in a statement on Friday.

Writ of Amparo

The NUPL requested for writs of amparo and habeas data after army generals linked them to communist rebels. The lawyers filed a supplemental petition after Malacañang included them in a matrix that tagged media groups in a supposed ouster plot.

A writ of Amparo is a legal remedy seeking a protection order, while a Writ of Habeas Data asks the Court to compel the respondent to delete or destroy damaging information.

"The Supreme Court, in a special en banc session held on Friday, issued a writ of amparo and habeas data in favor of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL)," the Court's Public Information Office said on Friday.

A Writ of Amparo usually comes with a protection order which will restrain the respondents from going near the petitioners. That was not issued yet, as the SC referred it to the Court of Appeals (CA) for the protection order.

The SC set the CA hearing for May 14.

"The Court also ordered respondents President Rodrigo Duterte, who was impleaded in his capacity as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, National Security Adviser (Ret.) Gen. Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr., et al. to make a verified return of the writ of amparo and habeas data on or before May 8, 2019, and to comment on NUPL, et al.'s petition before the said date," the SC said.

For the Writ of Habeas Data, the SC compelled the military to turn over to the Court "copies of all the facts, information, statements, records, photographs, and other evidence, documentary or otherwise, pertaining to each of them in the respondents' files and records."

"While this is just a start of an intense judicial battle and tedious procedure, we are grateful that the Court heeded our supplication to be given judicial shield and a potential relief from reckless accusations, malicious labeling and vicious attacks in different forms and guises," Olalia said.

Writ of Kalikasan

In the second petition, fishermen from Palawan and Zambales were assisted by the IBP and Diokno in suing the Duterte cabinet for for their "neglect" in enforcing Philippine laws to protect the maritime environments in West Philippine Sea territories.

"The Supreme Court, in a special en banc session held on Friday, issued a writ of kalikasan to protect, preserve, rehabilitate, and to restore the marine environment in Scarborough Shoal (also known as Panatag Shoal), Ayungin Shoal, and Panganiban Reef (also known as Mischief Reef)," the SC said.

"This affirms, at this juncture, the Philippine position made before the international arbitral body that the disputed islands fall within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines, and must therefore be protected by Philippine authorities as required by the Constitution and domestic environmental laws. Also that the Philippines, at least thru the judiciary, is not waiving its rights over them by acquiescing to the unilateral actions of another State," IBP outgoing president Abdiel Dan Fajardo said.

The petition asked the SC to "direct respondents to permanently cease and desist from neglecting the performance of their duties in violation of environmental laws resulting in environmental destruction or damage."

The respondents were Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, Fisheries Director Eduardo Gongona, Navy Flag Officer Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, Coast Guard Admiral Elson Hermogino, Police General Oscar Albayalde, Police Maritime Group Director Chief Superintendent Rodelio Jocson, and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

The above mentioned secretaries head agencies which are specifically tasked by the fisheries code to protect maritime environment. 

A separate communication has been lodged against Chinese President Xi Jinping before the International Criminal Court on this same issue, filed by former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario and former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales. Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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