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WRIT OF AMPARO: A View from the Bench

By J. Martin S. Villarama, Jr.

In recent years, we have witnessed the emergence of rampant unsolved killings of leftist leaders and members of progressive mass-based organizations, reminiscent of the martial law regime. Human rights violations have escalated to such an alarming scale that even the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, as well as other foreign groups, took notice. Following a consultative summit and acting upon the recommendations from various sectors and stakeholders in the justice system to tap the Philippine judiciary's expanded rule-making power under the 1987 Constitution, the Supreme Court promulgated the Rule on the Writ of Amparo on September 25, 2007 (A.M. No. 07-9-12-SC). The writ specifically covers extralegal killing and enforced disappearances.

This new remedy achieves its purpose through the four (4) interim reliefs provided therein, namely: temporary protection order, inspection order, production order and witness protection order. With no docket fee required to be paid, a petition may be filed before the RTC, Sandiganbayan, CA or SC, which shall be acted upon immediately; the respondents directed to file a return; and a summary hearing conducted within seven (7) days from issuance of the writ. The parties shall establish their claims by substantial evidence. While a respondent private individual or entity is required only to prove ordinary diligence under applicable laws, rules and regulations, respondent public official or employee must prove extraordinary diligence in the performance of duty. More important still, the latter cannot invoke the presumption that official duty has been regularly performed to evade responsibility or liability. The court is mandated to render judgment within ten (10) days from the time the decision is submitted for decision, and appeal to the SC under Rule 45 may raise questions of fact or law or both.

As can be gleaned from its provisions, speedy and inexpensive procedure is demanded by the urgent and serious nature of violations intended to be addressed by the Rule on Amparo, that is, the right to life, liberty and security. But being a prerogative writ, resort to amparo does not preclude the filing of separate criminal, civil or administrative actions. Refusal to issue or serve the writ is punishable by contempt without prejudice to other disciplinary actions. Such penalty and priority given to petitions for amparo further underscore the extraordinary character of the remedy, the constitutional rights involved being of the highest order.

"Amparo" which originated in the political experience of Latin American countries, is derived from "amparar" which means "to protect." As envisioned by our own Supreme Court, the writ of amparo can be availed of "as protective tool and remedy for the greater protection of the constitutional rights of the victims". Human rights groups welcomed the advent of amparo which they perceived as "additional deterrence" to abuses committed by the military and police. Official statistics of this Court on amparo petitions filed since October 24, 2007 when the Rule became effective, tend to confirm that complaints of this nature have considerably decreased.

Despite harsh criticisms hurled against this Court due to dismissals of certain amparo cases, it is more prudent for the parties and the public to understand the gravity of allegations involved in these petitions, as well as the fact that we have yet to hear the final word of the highest court of the land on all related issues, including inherent limitations of the remedy. It is, however, heartening to note that not only has the SC subsequently promulgated the writ of habeas data to complement the writ of amparo, Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno has also announced the possibility of expanding the coverage of the writ of amparo to violations of other "socio-economic and cultural rights of our people," such as residents displaced by demolition operations.

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