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The gods of Padre Faura

The 1987 Constitution expressly empowers the Supreme Court to “promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights.” This provision did not appear in the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions. The framers of the Constitution explained that this novel provision is both a duty and a power, imposing on the Supreme Court the responsibility as the ultimate guardian of the constitutional rights of the people.

The blatant violations of constitutional rights during the Marcos dictatorship compelled the framers of the 1987 Constitution to vest in the Supreme Court what is essentially a law-making power. This ensures that whenever there are gaps or inadequacies in the law, the Court can on its own address the gaps or inadequacies by promulgating rules to protect and enforce constitutional rights concurrent with the exercise of its judicial power. These rules cannot be repealed, altered, or supplemented by Congress, making them superior to laws passed by Congress.

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To date, the Supreme Court has exercised this extraordinary power in three instances. First is the promulgation of the 2007 Rule on the Writ of Amparo, creating a new legal remedy where none existed before. The 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 of Amparo is primarily meant to address issues such as extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

Second is the promulgation of the 2008 Writ of Habeas Data, again creating a new remedy where none existed before. The Writ of Habeas Data is “a remedy available to any person whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity engaged in the gathering, collecting or storing of data or information xxx.” The writ operates to protect a person’s right to control information regarding himself.

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Third is the promulgation of the 2010 Writ of Kalikasan, also creating a new remedy where none existed before. The Writ of Kalikasan is “a remedy available to a natural or juridical person xxx whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology is violated, or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or private individual or entity xxx.” The writ protects a constitutional right not found in the Bill of Rights but in the Declaration of Principles and State Policies of the Constitution. Thus, the duty and power of the Supreme Court to protect and enforce constitutional rights cover not only the Bill of Rights but also rights found in other provisions of the Constitution.

Last March 7, 2021, at early dawn on a fine Sunday morning, nine activists in various towns in Southern Tagalog were simultaneously killed by PNP and military personnel who were serving search warrants issued by two Metro Manila RTC judges. “Nanlaban” was the reason alleged by police and military personnel for the killing of the nine activists. The fact that the search warrants were served by police and military personnel, who are under the Executive branch of the government, does not excuse the Supreme Court from investigating the killings, which happened while judicial warrants were being served.

Any violation of constitutional rights in the service of search warrants is of utmost concern to the Supreme Court, which has the duty and power to protect and enforce constitutional rights. The killings are obviously a deprivation of life, and the Bill of Rights mandates that “no person shall be deprived of life xxx without due process of law.” The killings may also violate the constitutional “right of the people to be secure in their persons xxx against unreasonable searches.”

In ancient Greek theater, deus ex machina described the moment when the gods would descend from a mechanical device to resolve an insoluble plot at the end of the drama. The deus ex machina in the Constitution is when the gods of Padre Faura descend from their high perch to exercise their sacred duty and power to protect and enforce the constitutional rights of the people.

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TAGS: 1987 Constitution, Antonio T. Carpio, constituional rights, Crosscurrents
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