Chief Justice says writ of amparo may be filed any time, any day

The writ is enforceable anywhere in the country.

"We don't compromise the life of the aggrieved party just because one feels sleepy," Puno told members of the local judiciary, prosecutors, lawyers, the military and police officials, human rights groups and representatives from civil society at a forum at the University of Mindanao late Tuesday.

Puno said the petition for the issuance of a writ of amparo could be filed on any day and any time at the Regional Trial Court, of the place where the incident happened.

It could also be filed at the Sandiganbayan, Court of Appeals, Supreme Court or any justices of the Sandiganbayan, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court, Puno said in his more than two hour lecture discussing all the salient points of the 27-section rules.

Filing a petition for the writ requires no payment of fees.

Also, any concerned citizen or organization can file a petition for the writ for anyone who might need it, “if there is no known member of the immediate family or relative of the aggrieved party.”

The rules provide that an order of priority from the closest relative be followed, adding it is important to remember that because if someone has filed a petition for a person, the right of others to file it is suspended.

Puno told the forum that the writ is more expansive than the writ of habeas corpus in scope and coverage as it protects the citizen from acts and omissions of public and private authorities that violate or threaten their life, liberty and security.

In the past, relatives of missing persons petitioned the court for a writ of habeas corpus, to compel the agency to produce the missing person. Often the person issued the writ denies the missing person is in their custody.

Under the writ of amparo, a general denial of the allegations in the petition “shall not be allowed.”

The respondent shall, within 72 hours after receiving the writ, file a verified written return together with supporting affidavits that he did not violate the right to life, liberty and security of the aggrieved party, through any act or omission; that efforts were exerted to determine “the fate or whereabouts” of the aggrieved party.

If the respondent is a public official or employee, the return shall state the actions taken to verify the identity of the aggrieved party; recover and preserserve evidence related to the death or disappearance of the person identified in the petition which may aid in the prosecution of the person or persons responsible; identify witnesses and obtain statements from them concerning the death or disappearance; and determine the cause, manner, location and  time of death or disappearance as well as any pattern or  practice that may have brought about the death or disappearance.”

The respondent shall also state the actions taken to “identify and apprehend the person or persons involved in the death or disappearance; and  to bring the suspected offenders before a competent court.”

Puno clarified that the writ of amparo is not one-sided or against the military and police. He said threats and abuses committed by the New People’s Army and Moro rebels are also covered by the writ. But Puno admitted that responding to petitions concerning the rebels is still a problem.

According to the 27-provision Rule on the Writ of Amparo, the judge or justice is required to act immediately on the petition by issuing a writ to the respondents who shall be asked to respond within five days upon receipt of the summons.

Within seven days, the judge is required to hold a summary or daily hearing after, which he will issue a decision.

Upon the filing of the petition or at anytime before final judgment, the judge could issue a temporary protection order that the petitioner or the aggrieved party and any member of the immediate family be protected in a government agency or by an accredited person or private institution capable of keeping and securing their safety; an inspection order which enables any person in possession or control of a designated land or other property, to permit entry for the purpose of inspecting, measuring, surveying, or photographing the property or any relevant object or operation thereon; a production order which mandates a person in possession, custody or control of any evidence to produce and permit their inspection, copying or photographing; and a witness protection order which refers the witnesses to the Department of Justice for admission to the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Program, pursuant to Republic Act No. 6981.

Puno’s lecture elicited questions and apprehensions from the judiciary, prosecutors and the police rank.

Judge Isaac Robillo  of the Regional Trial Court Branch 13 asked about procedures.

Puno admitted to MindaNews they have to continue discussing the procedures in a series of lectures nationwide as the rule is "very new.” The Supreme Court en banc approved on October 24 the enforcement of the rule, one of the recommendations during the national consultative summit it convened in July on extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.  

Davao City Police Director Jaime Morente pledged to coordinate with the judges and prosecutors on the new rule but expressed apprehension about cases of disappearances that occurred in the past, before their assignment to the area.

Puno said the writ is among the gains of national efforts to address the problems of extrajudicial killings  or  "extra legal" killings and enforced disappearances amid growing international pressure.

"But this is not a magic solution as the problem cannot be solved overnight," he said.

Already, three petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court, including that filed by the family of the missing Jonas Burgos, son of Malaya editor-publisher Jose Burgos.

Puno told reporters the cases were forwarded to the Court of Appeals.

The first petition filed in Mindanao (see related story) was filed at the sala of Judge Robillo Wednesday. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)