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Writ of Amparo and Habeas Data.

AT the height of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances during the Arroyo administration, whenever victims would file a petition for Habeas Corpus, the State authorities usually denied having in their custody the subject missing persons. In a lot of instances in the past, State authorities were able to get away with this defense.

This prompted then-Chief Justice Reynato Puno and the Supreme Court at that time to craft a legal remedy to address the problem of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances. On September 25, 2007, the Supreme Court approved 'The Rule On the Writ of Amparo' (AM No. 07-9-12-SC). 'Amparo' literally means 'protection' in Spanish. Chief Justice Puno noted that the model for Amparo was borrowed from Mexico. The right of 'Amparo' is a legal procedure to protect human rights. Under this new legal remedy, State authorities can no longer use as a defense that they do not know where the missing persons are. They are required under the Writ of Amparo to locate the alleged victims or missing persons, and their movements will be closely monitored by Courts. The Writ of Amparo sets a standard for government agents to follow and, if they cannot satisfy this standard, then there would be proper reliefs that can be granted by the Court.

Subsequently, on January 22, 2008, Chief Justice Puno and the Supreme Court promulgated 'The Rule On The Writ of Habeas Data'-referred to as Amparo's twin writ. Habeas Data literally means, 'you should have the data' or 'you should have the idea.' Habeas Data originated from the Council of Europe's 108th Convention on Data Protection of 1981. It aims to protect the image, privacy, honor, information, self-determination and freedom of information of a person. It can be used to discover what is being held about his or her person, via rectification or destruction of the personal data held.

Under the Rules of the Supreme Court, the petition for a Writ of Amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity. The writ shall cover extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof. The Writ of Habeas Data extends to those engaged in the gathering, collecting or storing of data or information regarding the person, family, home and correspondence of the aggrieved party.

The petition may be filed by the aggrieved party or by any qualified person or entity in the following order:

(1)Any member of the immediate family, namely: the spouse, children and parents of the aggrieved party;

(2)Any ascendant, descendant or collateral relative of the aggrieved party within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity, in default of those mentioned in the preceding paragraph; or

(3)Any concerned citizen, organization, association or institution, if there is no known member of the immediate family or relative of the aggrieved party.

The petition may be filed on any day and at any time with the Regional Trial Court of the place where the threat, act or omission was committed or any of its elements occurred, or with the Sandiganbayan, the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court or any justice of such courts. The writ shall be enforceable anywhere in the Philippines.

The petitioner shall be exempted from the payment of the docket and other lawful fees when filing the petition. The court, justice or judge shall docket the petition and act upon it immediately.

Upon the filing of the petition, the court, justice or judge shall immediately order the issuance of the writ if on its face it ought to issue. Within 72 hours after service of the writ, the respondent shall file a verified written return together with supporting affidavits, which shall, among other things, contain the following:

(1) The lawful defenses to show that the respondent did not violate or threaten with violation the right to life, liberty and security of the aggrieved party, through any act or omission;

(2) The steps or actions taken by the respondent to determine the fate or whereabouts of the aggrieved party and the person or persons responsible for the threat, act or omission;

(3) All relevant information in the possession of the respondent pertaining to the threat, act or omission against the aggrieved party; and

(4) If the respondent is a public official or employee, the return shall further state the actions that have been or will still be taken:

(i) to verify the identity of the aggrieved party;

(ii) to recover and preserve 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;

(iii)to identify witnesses and obtain statements from them concerning the death or disappearance;

(iv) to 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;

(v)to identify and apprehend the person or persons involved in the death or disappearance; and

(vi) to bring the suspected offenders before a competent court.

(vii) the location of the files, registers or databases, the government office and the person in charge, in possession or in control of the data or information, if known.

In case the respondent fails to file a return, the court, justice or judge shall proceed to hear the petition ex parte. The hearing on the petition shall be summary. The hearing shall be from day to day until completed and given the same priority as petitions for habeas corpus.

Upon filing of the petition or at anytime before final judgment, the court, justice or judge may grant any of the following interim reliefs:

(a)Temporary Protection Order

(b)Inspection Order

(c) Production Order

(d)Witness Protection Order

The Supreme Court has been recently called upon by rights groups, families of alleged extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, and other advocacy groups to grant Writ of Amparo and Habeas Data to protect them from threats to their lives, liberty and security, and to require the government to disclose and destroy all files or records gathered against them. These groups named the President, security officials and even Malacanang officials as respondents.

The nation waits with bated breath on the outcome of these petitions.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:May 13, 2019
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