MANILA , Philippines — (UPDATE 2) Chief Justice Reynato Puno believes there is still hope despite the extrajudicial killings and disappearances hounding the country.
Puno expressed his sentiments as the two-day summit on extrajudicial killings called by the Supreme Court ended with participants calling for a ceasefire and resumption of peace talks — without preconditions — with all insurgent groups.
“I like to believe that this summit has demonstrated Filipinos can be one and that therefore there is no reason to abandon hope in the Philippines,” said Puno in his closing speech at the National Consultative Summit on Extrajudicial killings and Enforced Disappearances Tuesday.
“Let us rather engage in the conspiracy of hope…and hope for peace,” he added.
Puno said he would forward the summit’s recommendation to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Senate and House of Representatives.
In a chance interview, Puno said he was overwhelmed that he was able to gather the military and the Left, along with other officials for the discussion.
“We have overwhelmingly achieved our priority and that is to search for solutions,” he said.
On the summit’s second day, the more than 300 participants were divided into groups, each led by a justice and with representatives from the military, police, legislature, progressive groups and the international community..
“In the clash of arms, the laws are silent. We need to reduce violence, create conditions conducive to less violence based on the rule of law,” the workshop group led by Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales said in its report, which called for common understanding about the peace and order situation in the country.
All the groups acknowledged the importance of genuine peace negotiations as a means to solve the rash of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances that have claimed hundreds of lives and brought the Philippines increasing international scrutiny and criticism.
One group, stressing the need to ensure due process is accorded at all times, recommended that Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act be declared unconstitutional.
Another group called for the enactment of a new national identification system law, this time following the parameters set by the Supreme Court in two of its rulings on the controversial legislation.
All the groups agreed that insurgency is not only a military but also a political problem and said a ceasefire would be a sign of the government’s goodwill and sincerity in forging genuine peace agreements with all rebel groups.
They also recommended the use of the third-party approach to peace negotiations.
Among the other recommendations of the summit are:
— for the Supreme Court to reexamine the case of Umil v. Ramos, which said rebellion and related crimes are continuing offenses, thus allowing the warrantless arrest of suspects;
— to carefully study the possibility of creating a new offense for the killings and assaults on journalists, judges and activities, akin to the law penalizing violence against woman and children. The participants said these groups are in need of protection by the law;
— the establishment of sanctuaries where victims and witnesses can take refuge;
— for the President to certify and the Senate to ratify the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, and Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention, which addresses the issue of making civilian populations or individual civilians the object of attacks;
— the enactment of a law addressing and accurately defining extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances;
— allotting a bigger budget for the Department of Justice’s witness protection program and for non-government organizations to be allowed to set up their own similar programs;
— deputizing private prosecutors and the Commission on Human Rights during the preliminary investigation of cases involving extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance;
— a study on the use of the writ of Amparo for greater protection of Constitutional rights, and a more creative and resourceful application of the writ of habeas corpus;
— suspending the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty in cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance;
— requiring witnesses’ testimony to be taken inside judicial chambers;
— studying whether the government can continue invoking its immunity from prosecution in cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances;
— the setting up of an official impartial monitoring system on all cases, including coming up with benchmark figures;
— for the Supreme Court to adopt a rule allowing persons threatened with extrajudicial killings to seek protection orders from the court;
— allowing petitioners for the writ of habeas corpus to seek court orders to search the premises of police and military camps and stations in the presence of a representative from the Commission on Human Rights;
— requiring the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to take DNA samples of unidentified cadavers for preservation in the Philippine National Police laboratory;
— giving more teeth to the Commission on Human Rights, including the power to investigate and prosecute;
— giving free newspaper space or airtime to announcements of missing persons believed to be victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings;
— the adoption of international standards of command responsibility;
— the enhancement of moral, ethical and constitutional values that put a premium on tolerance and the rule of law.
— enforcing a policy addressing the proliferation of loose or unlicensed firearms.