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Chief Justice unfazed by Palace meet

By Leila Salaverria, Christine Avendaño
Inquirer
Last updated 04:07am (Mla time) 07/06/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- It may seem like the Malacañang-sponsored Mindanao Peace and Security Summit will steal the thunder from the Supreme Court’s own summit on extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, but Chief Justice Reynato Puno does not believe so.

Speaking with the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the sidelines of the Asian Justices Forum on the Environment held Thursday at the Edsa Shangri-La hotel in Mandaluyong City, Puno said the Palace summit scheduled next week could fill certain gaps.

“Maybe not,” he said when asked whether he thought that summit would preempt the one he had proposed. “They may complement each other.”

As early as last month, Puno had told Inquirer editors and reporters that he was planning to call a summit on the unabated extrajudicial killings that were giving the Philippine government, especially the executive branch, “a black eye” abroad.

SC summit: July 16-17

He said the discussions would center on, among other things, how legal procedures could be made “more helpful” to victims and their families.

The summit has been scheduled for July 16 and 17 at the Manila Hotel.

The Malacañang summit, on the other hand, was announced only on Tuesday by Deputy National Security Adviser Pedro Cabuay, who said it would focus on how to make the anti-terror law, or the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007, more acceptable to the public.

This summit will be held in Cagayan de Oro City on July 8-10. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is expected to attend on the last day.

Militant groups have warned that the HSA, originally scheduled to take effect on July 15, would be used to violate civil liberties.

Invitations

The high court has invited representatives of the executive and legislative branches of government, the police and military, and civil society to attend its “National Consultative Summit on Extrajudicial Killings and Forced Disappearances -- Searching for Solutions.”

It plans to invite observers such as members of the diplomatic corps and representatives of various international organizations.

The Chief Justice said the human rights group Karapatan would also be invited, contrary to an earlier statement of lawyer Ernesto Francisco Jr.

“We are inviting their representatives. They’ll get a special invitation,” Puno said.

Supreme Court spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez said Karapatan’s representative, Marie Hilao-Enriquez, and Evangeline Hernandez, mother of slain human rights worker Benjaline Hernandez, had met with him to request to be allowed to participate in the summit.
Marquez said he had informed Enriquez and Hernandez that they and representatives of similar organizations would be invited.

In a July 2 letter to Marquez, Francisco expressed concern that groups like Karapatan, which were at the forefront of the protest against extrajudicial killings, had not been invited to the summit.

“Without the participation of Karapatan and other organizations identified with the Left, there is also that great possibility that the summit will suffer the same fate as the Melo Commission, which fate was primarily brought about by the fact that it was boycotted by the Left,” he said.

Last year, Ms Arroyo formed the Melo Commission to look into the extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances.

But the commission, which was headed by retired Justice Jose Melo, was not able to get the side of the relatives of the victims of the killings.

False charges

Francisco is asking the high court to include in the summit agenda the subject of false charges.

His client, Fides Lim-Ladlad, made the request on behalf of her husband Victor who, she said, was falsely accused by the government when it charged him with rebellion and multiple murder along with Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo.

In an eight-page guide issued to participants, the tribunal said the summit was another response that the judiciary was undertaking in addressing the political killings.

On March 1, the tribunal issued Administrative Order No. 25-2007, which designated 99 regional trial courts nationwide to handle such cases.

At his meeting last month with Inquirer editors and reporters, the Chief Justice mentioned the need to reexamine legal procedures “to make these more helpful to the victims, more forceful against suspected perpetrators, and more demanding of government agents to solve such cases.”

He also cited the need for the judiciary to find out how it could fully use its expanded powers under the 1987 Constitution as guardian and protector of constitutional rights.

Objectives

The objectives of the summit are:

• To search for wholistic solutions and provide inputs to the Supreme Court in its objective to enhance rules, or promulgate new ones, both adjudicative and non-adjudicative, in the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, including the protection of witnesses.

• To examine the concept of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances pursuant to the standards provided for by local and international laws, including the United Nations instruments.

• To revisit the rules or evidence such as hearsay, circumstantial, forensic and the like, as well as rules on police investigations and evidence gathering, and to explore more remedies for the aggrieved parties aside from the writ of habeas corpus.

Delegates

Among those being considered as delegates to the summit are representatives of the Office of the President, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Justice, Department of Interior and Local Governments, National Economic and Development Authority, Department of National Defense, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, Melo Commission, Presidential Human Rights Committee, Senate, House of Representatives, Sandiganbayan, Commission on Human Rights, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and the academe, civil society and religious sector.

Related Link
SC to call summit on slays (06/24/07)



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