Uphold persons’ rights to life, liberty, security even if they are suspected criminals  – SC

Published August 9, 2022, 11:35 AM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court (SC)

The guaranteed rights to life, liberty and security cannot be disregarded or trampled upon by law enforcers even if a person is arrested for an alleged criminal offense, the Supreme Court (SC) declared.

Thus, the SC said, persons whose rights to life, liberty and security are threatened by law enforcers, their proper remedy before the courts is to file a petition for a Writ of Amparo.

Writ of Amparo (a Spanish word that means protection) “is a special writ to protect or enforce a constitutional right other than physical liberty.” The rules on the Writ of Amparo were approved by the SC in September 2007.

In a decision written by Associate Justice Jhosep Y. Lopez, the SC upheld the issuance of a Writ of Amparo in favor of widow Christina Gonzales whose husband was killed in the alleged illegal drugs operation conducted by the Antipolo City police.

A copy of the decision has not been made public by the SC. However, the SC’s public information office (PIO) issued a summary of the decision.

The PIO said the decision denied the petition for review filed by the Antipolo City law enforcement officers who challenged the Nov. 26, 2018 ruling of the Court of Appeals (CA) which issued the Writ of Amparo with a permanent protection order (PPO) in favor of Christina.

The CA decision recommended the filing of civil, criminal, and administrative charges against the police officers as it issued a PPO that barred the law enforcers from entering within a radius of one kilometer from Christina’s residences and work addresses.

The PIO said that in denying the petition, the SC “explicitly recognized the death of Christina’s husband, Joselito Gonzales, as an extralegal killing, and upheld the finding of the CA that Christina had reason to fear her life would be met with the same fate as that of her slain husband.”

It said the couple had been previously arrested for using and selling illegal drugs, “but were eventually released after paying the amount of ₱50,000 demanded by the police.”

It also said the SC acknowledged the various threats to Christina’s life, liberty, and security, including the allegations that prior to the issuance of the Writ of Amparo in 2017, “Christina and Joselito were both solicited by law enforcement agents to sell illegal drugs and were threatened on several occasions that they would be entrapped or killed.”

“The Court also gave credence to the claim that following Joselito’s death, there were several unknown and suspicious-looking individuals who attended his funeral asking for Christina’s whereabouts,” the PIO also said in its summary.

Christina filed on Feb. 17, 2017 a petition before the SC for a Writ of Amparo with a plea for a temporary protection order. On Jan. 21, 2017, the SC granted the plea for protection and ordered the CA to conduct a hearing.

On Nov. 26, 2018, the CA issued a PPO prompting the Antipolo City police officers to challenge the ruling before the SC.

The PIO said that “after examining the totality of evidence, the SC found that threats to the life of Christina were indeed present, and that the CA’s issuance of the Writ of Amparo was proper.”

It said the SC “also noted major lapses in the conduct of the police operation that resulted in Joselito’s death, raising doubts as to whether a legitimate buy-bust operation really took place.”

It also said “the SC noted how the law enforcement agents failed to follow several directives to reopen the investigation of Joselito’s case.”

“The High Tribunal further stressed that no documentation was provided to show that the usual procedure under Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, was observed when the illegal drugs were seized,” the PIO said.

“’The fact that respondent (Christina) and Joselito were previously arrested for selling illegal drugs is beside the point. As stated earlier, even if the respondent committed a crime, the petitioners, as law enforcement agents, are not at liberty to disregard the respondent’s constitutionally guaranteed rights to life, liberty, and security,’” the PIO said quoting from the decision.

It said it will upload the full text of the decision in its website – sc.judiciary.gov.ph – once available.