Philippines: Writ of Amparo as Human Rights Weapon

Alarmed by the high number of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the country, the Philippine Supreme Court decided to take a more pro-active role in defending the human rights of ordinary citizens. Last month, the Writ of Amparo took effect which was described by Chief Justice Reynato Puno as “the greatest legal weapon to protect the constitutional rights of our people.”

The Writ of Amparo was one of the many proposals made in the two-day summit on extrajudicial killings convened by the Supreme Court last July. Journal of the Jester-in-Exile identifies some of the summit recommendations:

-Amend the Rules of Court to issue protective orders in favor of witnesses in cases of extrajudicial killings;
-Expand the definition of “extrajudicial killings,” as specified in Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 25-2007 to include extrajudicial killings of persons by reason of their advocacies;
-Create disputable presumption of knowledge by the superior of the acts of the subordinate, and eliminate the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties in prosecution of cases involving extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances;
-In habeas corpus proceedings, allow petitioner to ask the court for an order so he or she can search specific private and public premises under guidelines prescribed by the court in the presence of the Commission on Human Rights and police;
-Transfer the venue of a case to prevent undue influence;
-Encourage judges to use perpetuation of testimony rules or the rules on conditional examination of witnesses;
-Review rules on evidence, hearsay, and modes of discovery; amend the Rules of Court to establish disputable presumption of command responsibility; and
-Allow use of electronic, remote testimony.

Lexfemme uploads the whole text of the Writ of Amparo. Section 1 of the writ states that it is “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 shall cover extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof .”

The Mindanao Examiner provides a background of the writ:

“Amparo, a Spanish word that means protection is a Mexican legal procedure that aimed at protecting human rights. The “recurso de amparo” is an exhaustive remedy which originated from Latin America's Mexican, Chile and Argentina legal systems. Mexico's Amparo is found in Articles 103 and 107 of the Mexican Constitution — the judicial review of governmental action, to empower state courts to protect individuals against state abuses.”

Bloggers Atty. Manuel J. Laserna Jr. and Atty-Wanna-Be notes give the main features of the writ. The Bystander lists the the significant portions of the rule:

1. The petitioner is exempted from the payment of the docket and other lawful fees, thereby giving him full and free access to courts authorized to issue the writ;
2. The petition can be filed on any day and at any time with the Regional Trial Court of the place where the violation was committed or with the Sandiganbayan, Court of Appeals, or the Supreme Court;
3. The writ is enforceable anywhere in the Philippines;
4. The respondent named in the writ, after being served therewith, must not only show in his return that he did not violate or threaten with violation the human rights of the aggrieved party but he must likewise show the steps taken by him to determine the whereabouts of the aggrieved party and the person or persons responsible for the violation. This simply means that a general denial by the respondent of the allegations in a petition for a writ of amparo, unlike in habeas corpus, is no longer sufficient to absolve him from responsibility;
5. The respondent must raise in his return all possible defenses available to him. Otherwise, they will be deemed waived;
6. The hearing of the writ, which is summary in nature, shall be scheduled not later than seven (7) days from the date of its issuance;
7. The court, upon the filing of the petition, may grant temporary reliefs to the petitioner or the aggrieved party like temporary protection orders, inspection orders, production orders, witness protection orders and the like;
8. If the respondent happens to be a public official or employee, he cannot evade liability or responsibility by invoking the presumption of regularity in the performance of duty; and
9. The respondent who refuses to make a return or who makes a false return or otherwise disobeys the lawful process or order of the court shall be punished for contempt either by imprisonment or fine.

Our thoughts are free quotes National Union of People’s Lawyers secretary-general Neri Javier Colmenares who described the writ of amparo as a legal remedy that “could pierce the veil of impunity shrouding the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the Philippines.” The lawyer also explained why the writ is a powerful legal measure:

“The writ of habeas corpus requires the military to physically produce missing persons suspected to be in its custody. The writ of habeas data, meanwhile, requires that the military produce evidence or items containing evidence on the whereabouts of missing persons believed to be in its custody. In habeas corpus or habeas data petitions, the courts have no power against the military’s denials of allegations.”

Writer Tony Lopez says the writ can be a tool against corruption too:

“Under this broad meaning and applying it as a layman, I take to use the writ of amparo as intended to protect not just life, not just liberty, not just security—but economic security which to me means your job, your livelihood. In that sense, I believe the writ of amparo is an awesome tool against corruption, by both government and the private sector. You can argue that you are poor because you have no job or economic security. You have no economic security because the economy is doing poorly. The economy is doing poorly because the government is corrupt. It sounds like an extended logic but it is an argument easy to understand.”

Nordis writer Mary Ann Manja Bayang warns against exaggerating the importance of the writ:

“This is not a solution to enforced disappearances or extrajudicial killings. It is a remedy issued by a democratic Supreme Court which we hope could abate human rights violations. But like so many other remedies within a corrupt and filthy system, this will only have a band-aid effect. Do not be misguided with the wrong perception that it is a solution to the problem.”

Activism 102 says the writ “sheds more light to find the disappeared despite the seemingly insurmountable odds.” Beyond what you see and Concerned Citizen Kane are impressed with the performance of the Supreme Court. TUCP uploads an article which views the writ as a legal tool which could be used by communists against the government.

Wow Philippines reports the first Writ of Amparo to be issued in the Philippines. The Mindanao Current on how the writ was used to protect an urban poor leader. Tek 4 the Pipol? blogs about the first legal victory which used the writ.

The Daily PCIJ features the recommendations of the Hong Kong Mission for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines on how to improve the human rights situation in the country:

-Immediately release all people being arbitrarily detained, and improve prison conditions in all of the country’s detention facilities;
-Ensure the creation of a well-resourced, credible, independent and effective system of witness protection;
-Immediately and effectively investigate all allegations of human rights violations, making use of physical and forensic evidence as well as testimony from witnesses;
-Without delay, bring all perpetrators to justice through fair and transparent trials before civilian courts and ensure that adequate reparation is provided to the victims and their families, in line with international standards;
-Halt the use of blacklists, such as the so-called “Order of Battle” that brand individuals as being “Enemies of the State”;
-Ensure that individuals and organizations are able to carry out their work in favor of human rights without risks, threats, reprisals or impediments;
-Improve the transparency and accountability of all State institutions; and
-Resume peace negotiations and at all times respect international humanitarian law and human rights laws and standards.

Related articles: Extrajudicial killings, Anti-Terror law


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