Philippines: Chief Justice Puno Tells Special Court Judges to Protect Human Rights

May. 08, 2007

Protect the right to life.

Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno today urged the Regional Trial Court (RTC) judges who will handle cases involving killings of political activists and media members to always uphold the most fundamental of all rights the right to life as they dispense their roles as special court judges.

Speaking during the closing ceremonies of the two-day Seminar-Workshop for Judges on Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances held at the Manila Pavillion Hotel, United Nations Avenue, Manila, Chief Justice Puno stressed that political, economic, and all other rights merely add quality to life and depend on the pre-existence of life itself for their operation.

It is with our checkered history, with our generous contribution to humanitys continuing struggle to enthrone human rights in the hearts of all as backdrop, that you must view your distinct call as special judges to decide extrajudicial killings. You are special judges because you are to protect the most special, the most important right of man the right to life, said Chief Justice Puno.

In his inspirational message, the chief justice also highlighted the countrys contributions to the strengthening of human rights in the United Nations Charter. He noted that Carlos Romulo, the first Asian to serve as president of the UN General Assembly, joined the UN leaders who at first condemned the proposed UN Charter as it overlooked the rights of minority and indigenous people living under colonial control.

Chief Justice Puno stressed that the UN Charter, as revised due to the objections of Romulo et al., started the universalization of human rights. He said It is the mother of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. All these triggered the birth of other international covenants to prevent genocide; to suppress the trafficking of persons; to establish the status of refugees; to protect the rights of stateless persons, the political rights of women, the rights of children, the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, and so on.

The High Court, through its education arm the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA), in partnership with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) conducted an extensive seminar-workshop for the first batch of RTC judges who will handle extrajudicial killings.

The seminar-workshop was aimed to address the concerns of Special Courts Judges on the procedure to identify and decide cases on extrajudicial killings.

The first batch of judges-participants come from the National Capital Judicial Region and the First and Second Judicial Regions. The schedule for the two other batches will be announced later.

Last March, the Court designated 99 Regional Trial Courts nationwide to handle cases of extrajudicial killings. In designating the Special Courts, the Court also issued guidelines to help them determine whether or not the crime is a political killing. To be considered are the (1) political affiliation of the victim; (2) method of attack; and (3) reports that state agents are involved in the commission of the crime or have acquiesced in them.

The Special Courts shall conduct continuous trial for said cases, which shall be terminated within 60 days from commencement of the hearing. A judgment on said case shall be rendered within 30 days upon its submission for decision unless a shorter period is provided by the law or otherwise directed by the High Court.

The Special Courts will be required to submit a report on the status of the concerned cases which shall be attached to their respective Monthly Report of Cases. Failure to submit such report shall be a ground for withholding the salaries and allowances of the judges, clerks of court, branch clerks of court concerned without prejudice to whatever administrative sanction the High Court may imposed on them.

Chief Justice Puno announced the creation of Special Courts even before Malacaang made public the findings of the Independent Commission to Address Media and Activists Killings, headed by retired SC Justice Jose Melo, confirming the extrajudicial killings of political activists and members of the media.

All over the world, men and women delight in proclaiming I am free. All three words in this short sentence are suffused with significance. The word free is significant for freedom is an important right; it is the aspiration of all. But to be free, you must first establish the I am in you. I am is a declaration of existence, a proclamation of the right to life. Your task as special judges is first to see to it that every Filipino can say I am, every one can proclaim, I live and second, to guarantee that if their right to life is violated, they can find vindication in our courts of justice, Chief Justice Puno told the judges-participants.

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