Deserving of mention in the roll call of the brave is Judge Emmanuel Cacho Rasing of the Baguio Regional Trial Court Branch 3. Last week, Rasing’s court pushed back against the excesses of the Duterte administration’s anti-insurgency campaign by issuing an order prohibiting the Cordillera police from making social media posts and putting up tarpaulins branding four young activists as “communists-terrorists.” Rasing issued a writ of amparo, an order of protection sought by University of the Philippines Baguio student activists and alumni Christian Dave Ruz, Deanna Louisse Montenegro, Leandro Enrico Ponce, and Keidy Transfiguracion. They sought protection from the Cordillera police which they said made “aggressive and systematic effort to condition the public’’ that they were enemies of the state “who deserve to be summarily eliminated.’’
“Nakakatakot’’ was the term used by Ruz in describing the red-tagging. He has a reason to be afraid, as the list is long of ordinary citizens harassed, attacked, or killed after being tagged by state agents as communists or terrorists.
The Baguio judge’s order is temporary, pending the hearing scheduled yesterday (March 29) where Police Regional Office Cordillera director, Police Brig. Gen. R’win Pagkalinawan, was asked to respond to the complaint by the four activists.
Yet this writ of amparo is another important and much-needed affirmation by the judiciary of fundamental due process and the rule of law. Of late, a number of courts have bucked the prevailing environment of impunity by issuing rulings in favor of the rights and safety of people placed in the government’s ever-expanding net of targets.
There was Judge Leah Geraldez of Branch 20 of Cebu City Regional Trial Court, who on March 11 ordered the social welfare department in Central Visayas to release a 16-year-old lumad student to her father. The girl was one of 19 lumad folk the police claimed they “rescued’’ from a refugee school at the University of San Carlos that they further claimed was being used by the New People’s Army to recruit members.
Early this month, Judge Ana Celeste Bernad of Bacolod City Regional Trial Court Branch 42 quashed search warrants issued by a Quezon City judge against members of the Kilusang Mayo Uno, for failing to specifically describe the place to be searched. The Quezon City judge issued a bunch of warrants that enabled the police to mount a massive crackdown on activists in Metro Manila and Bacolod City in October 2019. But Judge Bernad stressed that “In view of the manifest objective of the constitutional safeguard against unreasonable search, the Constitution and the Rules limit the place to be searched only to those described in the warrant.”
And then, of course, there’s the courageous ruling by Mandaluyong City Regional Trial Court Branch 209 Judge Monique Quisumbing Ignacio dismissing the cases of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against journalist Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago, who were among seven individuals arrested in a police crackdown on Human Rights Day last Dec. 10. Salem’s outfit, Manila Today, had been red-tagged by the national anti-insurgency task force. Ignacio declared that the warrants were vague and did not show sufficient basis after the police seized items not specified in the warrants.
Ignacio’s ruling must have hurt, because later a tarpaulin showing her face and linking her to the CPP/NPA/NDF was posted along Edsa, prompting the Supreme Court to express concern for the sinister red-tagging of the judge and the brazen killing of and physical attacks on judges, prosecutors, and lawyers. In a rare statement, the high tribunal said: “The Court condemns in the strongest sense, every instance where a lawyer is threatened or killed and where a judge is threatened and unfairly labeled. We do not and will not tolerate such acts that only perverse justice, defeat the rule of law, undermine the most basic of constitutional principles and speculate on the worth of human lives.’’
“To threaten our judges and our lawyers is no less than an assault on the judiciary,” the Supreme Court warned. “To assault the judiciary is to shake the very bedrock on which the rule of law stands. This cannot be allowed in a civilized society like ours. This cannot go undenounced on the Court’s watch.”
Unfortunately, indicating that strong censure by the Supreme Court is still not enough to chasten the administration, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana opted to stand by erring military personnel when he suddenly reinstated two generals he had fired after they released an erroneous list tagging 27 University of the Philippines alumni as communists.
Lorenzana had previously described their action as an “unpardonable gaffe.’’ But in quickly rehabilitating them, he said he “believes in second chances.’’
That slap in the wrist could only mean more of the same for the military and police, which also means more brave voices, from the courts to the ranks of ordinary Filipinos, need to be heard.
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