SC to Work for Social Justice – Chief Justice Puno


Chief Justice Reynato Puno

“Maaasahan [ang Korte Suprema] na gagawa ng lahat ng kayang gawin upang ang social justice na isang mandato ng ating Saligang Batas ay magkaroon ng saysay sa ating mga kababayan.” Chief Justice Reynato Puno

BY RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat
Volume VIII, Number 30, August 31-September 6, 2008

Chief Justice Reynato Puno said that the Supreme Court will consider expanding the writ of amparo, dealing with harassment suits, setting up of small claims courts, among others, to protect the economic, social and cultural rights of the poor.

Writ of amparo

In his speech at the forum titled, “Kabuhayan, Karapatan, Katarungan,” (Livelihood, Rights, Justice) organized by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), August 28, Puno said that the writ of amparo may be expanded to protect economic, social and cultural rights of the poor.

The writ of amparo was promulgated by the High Court on October 24, 2007 to provide legal remedy for victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

Quoting reports from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Puno said that the Commission on Human Rights’ (CHR) monitored a significant drop in incidents of extrajudicial killings. Meanwhile, United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston noted the improvement in the situation after the SC introduced new rules.

Puno said that with the effectiveness of the writ of amparo, the SC will seriously consider expanding its scope. He said that in Mexico, the writ of amparo also covers social, economic and cultural rights.

The chief justice said that the writ of amparo, for instance, could be used as a protection against demolition of urban poor communities.

The Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), an organization of urban poor, welcomed Puno’s statement.

The group complained that Regional Trial Courts (RTCs) always decide for the demolition of their communities. Kadamay’s Ed Lecson, said they had no one to turn to during demolitions.

Ang pamahalaan natin, magaling mag-drawing ng proyektong pangkaunlaran pero hindi kasama sa guhit ang maralitang tagalunsod,” (The government is good at drawing so-called development projects but the urban poor is always excluded in the plan.) said Lecson.

Harassment suits

Puno also vowed to consider the proposal of the NUPL regarding the Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP).

In his presentation, Julius Matibag, NUPL member, said that SLAPP cases are essentially harassment suits. “Layon nitong manakot, manggipit sa mga kritiko… mas mapanganib, mas mapaniil sa karapatang pang-ekonomiya,” (These are intended to threaten, harass critics…more dangerous and more repressive of economic rights) he said.

Matibag said that victims of SLAPP cases are burdened and threatened with costly and long litigation, danyos perwisyo (payment of damages) and detention.

The NUPL, in its proposal, defines SLAPP as 1) any civil complaint, counter-claim, criminal complaint or information, or administrative complaint; 2) filed against individual or individuals, groups, labor unions, entity or associations, community residents, or the like; 3) by reason, or arising out, of their exercise of freedom of speech, expression, or of the press, or of the right to peaceably assemble or petition the government for redress of grievances in matters of public concern; 4) intended merely to harass, vex, exert undue pressure, or stifle the resources of such individual or individuals, groups, labor unions, entity or associations, community residents, or the like.

SLAPP cases, Matibag said, are usually used by mining companies and banana plantations against community residents, indigenous people, environmentalists, media; landlords against peasants; employers against workers; universities and colleges against students; and, public figures, politicians against critics, media.

Matibag cited multi-million libel suits, cases of slander, grave coercion, illegal assembly direct assault resistance, disobedience and injunctions as some of the SLAPP cases filed.

In their reports, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment enumerated harassment suits filed against their members and supporters.

Danilo Ramos, KMP secretary general, called it criminalization of agrarian cases. He said that 13 peasants in Cagayan Valley were charged with arson, another 13 were charged with illegal logging in Cadiz. Some were charged with theft.

Roger Soluta, KMU deputy secretary general, also opposed the criminalization of labor disputes. He said that workers, especially those who are on strike, are charged with various common crimes.

Meanwhile, Kalikasan National Coordinator Clemente Bautista disclosed that at least 100 environmental advocates have been slapped with charges because of their opposition to mining and logging. Bautista said 80 teachers in Sibuyan were charged with illegal assembly and grave coercion. In Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya, Oxiana Royalco Resources mining company filed a petition for permanent injunction against 24 leaders of indigenous people to prevent them from continuing their barricade.

Puno said, ”Tutugunan [ng Korte Suprema] ang SLAPP na ginagamit upang ligaligin, guluhin at pigilin ang nagtataguyod ng karapatan konstitusyonal na pang-ekonomiya, pang-pamayanan at pang-kultura.” (The Supreme Court will address SLAPP that is being used to harass, stop those who advance their constitutionally-guaranteed economic, social and cultural rights.)

Puno added that the High Court will also consider SLAPP back actions for damages against the complainant.

He said that they will study the different approaches used in the US, Canada, Europe where SLAPP cases and SLAPP back actions originated.

Small claims courts

Puno also announced that the Supreme Court is finalizing the rules of procedure for small claims cases. He said that pilot courts will be chosen hear small cases involving the poor.

Hindi na kailangan ng abogado, hindi na susundin ang masalimuot na rules of procedure,” (There will be no need for a lawyer; the complicated rules of procedure will not be followed.) Puno said.

Almost all groups who presented their reports complained of the lack of pro-bono lawyers.

Puno said the Supreme Court aims to bring the success of small claims courts in Australia, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States to the Philippines.

Civil cases with damages not exceeding P100,000 ($2,177 at an exchange rate of $1=P45.925) may also be heard in these courts, said Puno.

Other concerns, recommendations

Jose Enrique Africa, research head of Ibon Foundation, proposed that trade deals, economic and social policies be subjected to judicial review.

Africa said that the effects of macroeconomic policies violate the people’s economic, social and cultural rights.
In a statement, Bayan asserted that trade and investment agreements such as the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade-World Trade Organization (GATT-WTO), Mining Act of 1995 and the Malampaya natural gas project must be reviewed. “Many of these policies have upheld the globalization paradigm which sought to open up the country to investments and trade, effectively removing protections for domestic economy and national patrimony,” Bayan said.

Writ of Andres Bonifacio

CJ Puno with BayanMeanwhile, Ad Litem Judge Romeo Capulong, president of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) and chairperson of the NUPL provided the framework of the struggle of poor Filipinos for economic, social and cultural rights.

Capulong said, “We live and suffer in a stratified society and under a government that is dominated by a tiny elite. This tiny elite has a monopoly of political power and economic resources which they use and often abuse to tilt the scales of justice in their favor.”

He added, “We are endowed with rich natural resources but million of Filipinos are mired in deep and widespread poverty under a system characterized by a backward, agrarian and pre-industrial economy.”

He said that marginalized sectors, the defenseless poor, are forced to go to court either to defend or assert their economic, social and cultural rights against ‘formidable adversaries’ who have unlimited resources and full support of the government, including the military, police, local officials and private armies.

Capulong said, “…our problems in the judiciary, in the legislature, in the executive branch are inextricably intertwined and will defy lasting solutions unless we dismantle the prevailing unjust social and economic order and establish a truly, free, democratic and sovereign nation.”

He proposed the adoption of what he called the writ of Andres Bonifacio.

In reaction, Puno said, “I fully concurred with all the statements of Judge Capulong. Totoong lahat lalo na ang tungkol sa elite-dominated government and society. Bulag at bingi na lang ang hindi makakakita ng katotohanang iyan.” (All of it is true especially those about the elite-dominated government and society. One has to be blind and deaf in order not to see the truth in that.)

Puno said, “Maaasahan [ang Korte Suprema] na gagawa ng lahat ng kayang gawin upang ang social justice na isang mandato ng ating Saligang Batas ay magkaroon ng saysay sa ating mga kababayan.” (Rest assured that the Supreme Court would do everything within its power so that social justice, which is one of the mandates of the Constitution, would have meaning for our countrymen.) Bulatlat

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