MANILA – In a landmark decision, the Court of Appeals issued the writs of amparo and habeas data for Cordillera human rights lawyer Maria Catherine Salucon on March 12.
Salucon filed a petition for the writs of amparo and habeas data in April 2014, following a series of harassment and intimidation against her by state agents. She is a founding member and current auditor of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), and handles its cases in the Cordillera and Cagayan Valley regions.
In granting the two writs, the court the directed state security forces to “exert extraordinary diligence and efforts to protect Salucon and her immediate family.”
Under the Rule on the Writ of Amparo, the following interim reliefs are available to petitioners: temporary protection order, inspection order, production order, and witness protection order.
The respondents are: Cagayan Valley acting regional director Police Supt. Miguel De Mayo Laurel, Philippine Army commanding general Gen. Hernando Irriberi, Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) chief Eduardo Año, and Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, then chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Last year, Bautista retired as AFP chief and was replaced by Lt. Col. Gregorio Pio Catapang, while Año was assigned as head of the 10th Infantry Division in Mindanao and was replaced by Brig. Gen. Arnold Quiapo.
The CA said that its decision will still be “enforceable” against whoever the incumbent officials are.
The writ of “amparo,” which is Spanish for “protection,” is a legal remedy for the protection of victims of human rights violations, including threats. It goes hand-in-hand with the writ of habeas data which maybe sought by any person to release, and even destroy any personal information being held that threatens one’s life and security, and violates the right to privacy.
Salucon said it could be considered as a “landmark decision” in the country. As far as her memory serves, she said, this is the first writ of amparo for lawyers under attack. But it does not mean that she would let her guard down.
“At this point, it is a welcome development. But, we should not lose our guard, and continue to be careful,” Salucon told this reporter in a phone interview.
Associate Justice Hakim Abdulwahid of the CA’s Former Special Sixth Special Division signed the decision, with the concurrence by Associate Justices Romeo Barza and Zenaida Galapate-Laguilles.
The court also directed both the military and the police to investigate the harassment against her, and “identify and find the persons responsible for said violations and bring them to a competent court.”
The state forces also have to submit a quarterly report to “enable the court to monitor the respondents.”
They also have to produce all derogatory and prejudicial information, photographs, dossiers, and other documents relating to Salucon “for possible destruction upon order of this Court.”
Failure to comply, the CA said, would constitute contempt of court.
In the same decision, Abdulwahid dismissed the petition against President Aquino, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and resigned PNP chief Alan Purisima. The court said Aquino has “immunity from suits,” the petition against Gazmin “lacked merit” while that against Purisima was already “moot.”
Salucon candidly shared that she learned that the police and the military were chided for the attacks against her.
“I asked him straightforward,Were you castigated?’ and he said, ‘oo nga eh. Nandamay sila,” she said, quoting her recent conversation with a suspected state agent who has repeatedly asked, even visited her office, if he could arrange the lawyer’s meeting with a ranking military intelligence officer.
The intensified surveillance on Salucon was followed shortly with the killing of paralegal and human rights worker William Bugatti. Attacks against Salucon were among those brought before the government’s attention by European lawyers in January.
The said respondents were “chided,” according to the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers statement, for their “failure to exercise extraordinary diligence in looking into the threats on Atty. Salucon.”
Salucon said her tight security measures would remain as she is in a country where the culture of impunity is perpetuated by no less than the President.
Just last March 12, Salucon related that they received reports that the visit by NUPL president and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares’ to political prisoners in the jail in Ilagan, Isabela was heavily “monitored” by suspected military agents.
She, too, was inside the said Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, visiting and consulting her other clients.
After attending a hearing on March 16, just a few days after the Court of Appeals granted the writ of amparo, a man grabbed one of the pamphlets being handed out by activists outside the court.
Salucon had earlier said the surveillance and harassment against her have subsided, following strong condemnations from both local and international lawyers groups. But her clients, even those whose cases are not political, were interrogated by suspected military agents on what they know about her.
The NUPL said in a statement that the granting of the writ of amparo would only be more meaningful “if it will result in the resolute prosecution and due punishment of those involved in the threats against a human rights defender. We will not just take these threats idly and remain sitting ducks.” (bulatlat.com)