SC to amend rules on criminal procedure

By Tetch Torres
Last updated 01:43pm (Mla time) 07/18/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Promising to fulfill the gains of the summit on extrajudicial killings with the end in view of upholding human rights, the Supreme Court wasted no time as it immediately set a review on the rules of criminal procedure next week, a spokesman for the high tribunal said Wednesday.


Lawyer Midas Marquez also said that the high court has begun processing the recommendations for the Executive and Legislative by the participant groups and sending them to these branches of government for further study and possible implementation.


“We are already processing and sorting the recommendations,” Marquez said.


The recommendations for the Executive branch will be sent to the Office of the President while those for the Legislative will be given to the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Marquez said.


Marquez said the high court would convene its rules committee next week to study the recommendations for the judiciary, which includes amending the Rules of Criminal Procedure, strengthening the writ of habeas corpus, use of the writ of amparo, among others.


The recommendations of the Rules Committee will be submitted to the Supreme Court en banc for approval, said Marquez.


Justifying the action taken by Supreme Court on the recommendations from the two-day National Consultative Summit on Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances — Searching for Solutions, Marquez said the high court, under the Constitution, was allowed to promulgate rules on the protection of constitutional rights.


Marquez cited Article 8 Section 5 (5), in which the high court could “promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts, the admission to the practice of law, the integrated bar, and legal assistance to the under-privileged.”


“Such rules shall provide a simplified and inexpensive procedure for the speedy disposition of cases, shall be uniform for all courts of the same grade, and shall not diminish, increase, or modify substantive rights. Rules of procedure of special courts and quasi-judicial bodies shall remain effective unless disapproved by the Supreme Court,” according to the Constitution.


Chief Justice Reynato Puno said in his opening speech at the summit Monday that it was time for Lady Justice to “unsheathe [her] unused power if elected political leaders entrusted with upholding human rights cannot fulfill that role.


Puno did not hide his frustration over the inadequacies of the system in dealing with extrajudicial killings.


“Over the years, the expectation that human rights could best be protected by the political branches of government has been diluted,” Puno said in the summit he called to the stem the surge of extrajudicial killings in the country.


“Elected officials usually go for what is popular, but the vindication of human rights sometimes demand taking unpopular decisions, especially in instances where, due to technicalities, the right of the righteous is trumped by the rights of the wicked,” he told the forum of some 250 delegates and observers, including 28 foreign diplomats and development workers.


“Elected officials sometimes demur in making decisions that will displease their powerful constituencies,” the top magistrate noted before the gathering at the Manila Hotel, where a few seats separated human rights advocates and aggrieved parties from the “usual suspects” in the killings — the military and police.


“Elected officials are sometimes more interested in high-profile issues or with greater impact on the larger number of their constituents.


“Oftentimes, however, human rights cases are low profile especially when they affect the marginalized, or people whose existence some would hardly recognize or worse, people dismissed as invisibles of society,” Puno said.


Alluding to the Marcos dictatorship, Puno recalled how the executive branch could “run roughshod” over human rights while the Legislature could choose to be “powerless” and “default” on its duties to protect those rights.


The summit was aimed at gathering inputs on how the judiciary can expand its role in addressing the spate of unsolved murders and abductions of activists and journalists deemed critical of the government.


Puno had spoken in press interviews about possibly reconfiguring the rules of evidence, reviewing the principle of command responsibility, and finding other legal remedies when the writ of habeas corpus proved ineffective in forcing authorities to produce missing persons.


The Charter was framed by constitutional commissioners who saw how human rights were “trivialized during the authoritarian years” of the Marcos regime, said Puno.


The framers, with their “bountiful bias in favor of human rights,” reexamined the “balance of power” among the three branches of government.


“The reexamination easily revealed that under the then existing balance of power, the Executive, thru the adept deployment of the Commander in Chief, can run roughshod over our human rights, [while] a supine Legislature can betray the human rights of the people by defaulting to enact appropriate laws.”


“For there is nothing you can do when Congress exercises its power to be powerless,” he noted.


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